Can You Parent Your Way to Executive Support for Data Modeling?

Loraine Lawson

I couldn't help but chuckle while reading an Information Management article on how to win executive respect for data modeling and data architecture. Why is it so many tech articles talk about executives as if they're toddlers?


"Many executives have a shiny object syndrome, where the latest project or technology to come in front of them completely consumes them and nothing else matters," writes Jason Tiret, a director of modeling and architecture solutions for Embarcadero. "That is, until another brighter, shinier object comes along."


If you've ever had a toddler, you know the best way to get them to stop doing what you don't want -- like chewing on your friend's Coach purse -- is to distract them with something new and different that you don't mind them doing or having -- like your five-year-old purse from Target.


Alas, I can't really say that Tiret is wrong. His advice-which is to keep tying data modeling to the shiny object du jour-will probably work. Heck, I would've said it if I'd thought of it. It's just funny to me because of the article title, "How To Win Executive R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Data Modeling." I can't imagine "respect" is what executives would feel if they read his article.


Tiret also recommends you tap into that another common parenting tool-fear:

Approximately every 18 months, news of a data breach surfaces, often involving the compromise of credit card numbers or Social Security numbers. Understanding the true impact of a catastrophe such as this requires a deep knowledge of the data and its whereabouts, for which modeling plays a critical role.

The article actually contains a lot of really solid advice for gaining executive support for any data initiative and it's well worth a read. But do you really want to try to explain data modeling to executives?


Data modeling has been around for decades, but as data takes on a more strategic focus, many of the conversations once held by database programmers down in the basement are suddenly moving up into the hallways, if not the boardrooms.


In my mind, the question remains whether data modeling is really an appropriate CXO-level conversation. It seems to me the focus should be on the complete data portfolio, from management to modeling, rather than the individual components of the data portfolio.


Still, you can secure funding for data modeling tools and data architecture without using these exact terms with executives. That's what Jill Dyche, vice president of DataFlux, Baseline Division, and a long-time data consultant, does:

I don't actually talk to business people about data models. I'll talk to business people about data requirements. "Your business requirement is you want to track the profitability of your campaigns and promotions for the last year, that's a great business requirement. What data is necessary to do that? So you need customer data, you need profitability data, you need promotion data, you need product data. Okay, so those are your data requirements." Now in the back room we go and we say, 'Okay, here are the data requirements, let's model these so we understand the relationships between them," and we can come up with these logical constructs that will form the basis for the physical tables on the data warehouse.

I tend to think the best way to win support of data modeling is, first, not to talk about data modeling. Also, it's probably a good idea to make sure you're not too obvious about treating your executive like a toddler.

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