The data governance story: Building a business language glossary

Offering Manager, IBM InfoSphere Information Governance Catalog, IBM

Data is often the catalyst that drives business direction and growth. However, if data is cryptic and not understood, then how can such data contribute to such direction or growth? Just like in life, we learn from our past, as we gain direction and insight from previous events or activities to make data driven decisions.

Additionally, when evaluating data and the reports or tabulation generated from such data, we must ensure consistency in our understanding and interpretation of such data. If our understanding or interpretation differs, the ensuing influence on business direction or growth may be flawed and incomplete.

As an example, a telecommunications company generates a weekly report that identifies ‘soft subscribers,’ those users whose usage falls below a given average or threshold; and this report drives targeted marketing or customer communication to increase engagement. However, as this company did not employ any standards, the definition of soft subscriber varied between departments and between analysts that had prepared these reports.

What is a glossary?

An integral component and building block of any data governance solution is a business glossary that documents and makes available a set of approved and complete concepts within an enterprise glossary. This minimizes any misunderstanding and confusion of the terminology used within the business and facilitates communication, correct data access and reporting.

A mature and complete glossary requires participation from the business community to sustain and define the terms and the relationships within them. The glossary further drives greater awareness of the language of the business, its meaning and understanding.


With a robust data governance solution, an enterprise can manage and publish a glossary which consists of ‘categories’ and ‘terms,’ along with additional classifiers and descriptors. Categories contain terms, which represent the concepts which are fully detailed and explained. Categories help organize the terms, per subject or domain. Categories further allow for refinement in the management of the glossary according to varied domains or areas of the business.

How to build a glossary

Firstly, define the process for creating and managing the terms of the glossary. Then, nominate a council of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) across the varied areas of the business who would be responsible for introducing the concepts to the glossary. Also ensure these SMEs include in the glossary a complete set of information that documents not only its definition, but also its structure and expected usage constraints. As content is introduced, a process is required by which this content is reviewed by a set of peers for completeness and the business for accuracy and alignment. Only once reviewed, should this content be published, sharing the changes with all users.

A glossary disseminates the definitions and relationships between the terms contained within it to the user community. The glossary must further remove any complexities and inconsistencies, and ensure that these users can easily search and explore the glossary and clearly understand and benefit from its content. The glossary must also be adoptable to the different contexts, different understandings, different cultural or regional semantics, different regulations that often define the concepts and require varied definitions or classifications. A robust data governance system fully supports these requirements by offering support for synonyms, various languages, translations and a multitude of relationships that help structure and relate the terms of the glossary.

A term is enriched through a series of classifiers or identifiers. It helps explain the general meaning and provides a clear interpretation of the concept in a language that the user can understand. These identifiers help in defining the following:

  1. Relationships to capture the unique structure or association of a term
  2. Components contained by a term
  3. Type of the term by documenting additional attributes such as abbreviations, examples, status or security flags
  4. The synonym or replacement term

Closing thoughts

Ultimately, the main benefit of a glossary is that it allows the business terms and the concepts (that define and explain the business), to be associated with data that is used operationally. The glossary is an important and integral component of any data governance solution and initiative, and is the language of the business and the means for the business to not only understand information but also to navigate to such information.

As with all solutions, care must be taken and processes must be developed to ensure consistency, accuracy and coverage of the glossary across the domain of the business, through which the business can share its definition and standards. Learn how you can govern through meaning and understanding by maintaining an enterprise glossary using IBM InfoSphere Information Governance Catalog.