Friday, October 07, 2005

The Need for Real Business Models

One of the perennial issues that dogs IT departments is the gap between customer expectations and the IT system that is actually delivered. There are many causes of this e.g. the long gap between "functional spec" and actual delivery, but one that is rarely discussed is he language of the business model. When a systems analyst specifies a system they will typically draw up a logical data model and a process model to describe the system to be built. The standard way of doing the former is witti entity relationship modelling, which is well established but has one major drawback in my experiences: business people don't get it. Shell made some excellent progress in the 1990s at trying to get business people to agree on a common data model for the various parts of Shell's business, a thankless task in itself. What was interesting was that they had to drop the idea of using "standard" entity relationship modelling to do it, as the business people at Shell just could not relate to it.

At that time two very experienced consultants at Shell, Bruce Ottmann and Matthew West, did some ground-breaking research into advanced data modelling that was offered to the public domain and became ISO standard 15926. One side effect of the research was a different notation to describe the data used by a business, which turned out to be a lot more intuitive than the traditional ER models implemented in tools like Erwin. This notation, and much else besides is described in an excellent whitepaper by Bruce Ottmann (who is now with Kalido).
We use this notational form at Kalido when delivering projects to clients as diverse as Unilever, HBOS and Intelsat, and have found it very effective in communicating between IT and business people. The notation itself is public domain and not specific to Kalido, and I'd encourage you to read the whitepaper and try it out for yourself.


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