Building & Maintaining a Master Data Dictionary
What is a Master Data Dictionary and why do you need one?
Accurate data is critical for making important business decisions.
But if different departments across the business are measuring metrics in different ways, it can lead to a lot of confusion and lack of confidence in data - making it a lot harder to be decisive with those critical business decisions.
Without a common definition of business metrics, it's hard to know the accuracy of data you're looking at, and how it's been calculated.
That is where a master data dictionary can help.
In this Master Data Dictionary guide you’ll learn
- What is a Master Data Dictionary?
- What is the purpose of a Master Data Dictionary, and why is it useful?
- How do I create a Master Data Dictionary?
- Frequently Asked Questions about Master Data Dictionaries
What is a Master Data Dictionary?
A master data dictionary is a comprehensive document that includes all the agreed-upon definitions of business metrics across an organization, where to find them, and how to calculate them.
It can also provide a definitive answer to whether you use the sales within Adobe Commerce, Analytics or your Multi-touch attribution platform for your daily reporting.
It can include a glossary of all those marketing acronyms and abbreviations - easily explained in plain English for non-marketing team members, with supporting calculations. CPA, ROAS, CPM, CPC, ROI and others - all demystified for non-marketers.
Not only this, but the dictionary can supply a breakdown of all the common financial terms used by the accounting team, with a clear explanation of how they are calculated. GP, Net Profit, EBITDA and others - all explained simply for everyone across the business.
Your data dictionary also has the potential to help the other departments when the Customer Service team talk about their CSAT and NPS, It’s a centralized location that explains in simple terms how the Customer Satisfaction Score and Net Promoter Score are calculated, and why they are important.
For a master data dictionary to be optimally effective, it should ideally include all metrics that are being used by more than one person within an organization.
What is the purpose of creating a Data Dictionary, and why is it useful?
It ensures consistency in the platforms and calculation methods used for reporting
Imagine you're asked at 3pm on the 18th day of the month to pull a report that includes all sales 'month to date', broken down by marketing channel.
Ways to track sales within the business could be - Adobe Commerce, other analytics tools, and your internal multi-touch attribution solution. All track in 'real time', and have data up until 5 minutes ago.
Which reporting solution should you use? All will have slightly different metrics - especially when broken down by channel.
And does 'month to date' include today? Or did it finish at 11:59pm yesterday?
It's easy to see that if you asked multiple different people to complete this task, you are likely to end up with different results being reported.
A master data dictionary can explain what is meant by "month to date sales" and give advice on where you should pull your data from to ensure consistency.
It ensures that calculations of metrics are the same across the business.
Without clear guidance, it's easy for inconsistencies to creep into the calculation of metrics within departments.
Imagine the Customer Service team sent out surveys to 100 customers and were asked to report back on the percentage of responses that were positive.
- 100 surveys were sent out
- 56 responded positively
- 34 didn't respond at all
- 10 responded negatively
One person in the Customer Service team might report this as a 56% positive response rate - using the number of surveys that were sent out to calculate the percentage.
Another person in the Customer Service team might report this as an 85% positive response rate, by excluding the people that didn't respond from the calculation.
Based on the brief, neither person would be technically wrong - but you've got two completely different results.
A master data dictionary would help explain how this metric should be calculated.
It helps others understand when you're talking in departmental lingo.
Every department within a business has their own sector specific terminology or lingo. There are so many marketing abbreviations and acronyms it can be hard to keep up!
By having all your common abbreviations and terminology explained in a master data document, it can help other departments across the business understand what you're discussing.
It gives the whole organization confidence in business data
Ultimately - implementing a master data dictionary is an important step in making sure that everyone across your business can have confidence in the data they are using, and how it has been calculated.
How to create a Data Dictionary
Choose a project lead
Although setting up a data dictionary sounds like an easy task – it can take a lot of time! The project will need a dedicated 'lead' to manage pulling all the definitions together across the business.
Depending on the scale of your organization, it's often best to just have one person leading the project, to make sure you have consistency in tone across the different definitions.
Choose a nominated representative from each department of the business
It's important that the project lead has a single point of contact within each area of the business - someone that has a good understanding of the data and metrics that the department uses regularly, and how they are calculated.
Gather all reports and dashboards
Once all nominated representatives are in place, the next step is to gather the reports and dashboards from each department, and see which metrics are commonly used.
The project lead should follow up with the nominated person in each department if there are any areas that need clarification.
Plan the categorization and depth of detail
Once all the business metrics across the business have been collected, the project lead should consider categorizing them.
The categorization will vary from business to business, but a common starting point might be:
- Marketing metrics
- Customer Service metrics
- Finance metrics
- Operations metrics
Across each category, put the following fields in place for each metric:
- Name of metric
- Definition of metric
- Calculation of metric
- Example of report that uses metric / example of metric in action
It's important to write all entries in simple language. Remember, the master data dictionary needs to be accessible and easy to understand for everyone in the business.
Circulate to nominated department reps
Once the first draft of the document is ready, it should be circulated to the nominated stakeholders in each department to get their get their feedback, and to double check that the definitions and calculations in the document are correct.
Circulate to the wider business
Once the feedback from the department reps has been incorporated, the data dictionary is ready to be shared with the wider business.
Frequently asked questions about Master Data Dictionaries
Where should I host my Master Data Dictionary?
This all depends on the size and scale of your business.
The most important thing is that the master data dictionary is easily accessible, and easy to use for everyone in the company. It's probably best to avoid complex databases.
However, you possibly want something that is more professional and authoritative than a spreadsheet.
There are professional tools such as Secoda that helps you collaborate, organize and contextualize the data across your business.
But other businesses might be best operating with a simple Wiki, which is easy to install and update, and provides an interface that most people in the business will be comfortable and familiar with.
How do I update the Master Data Dictionary?
Business doesn't stand still.
Once the master data dictionary is up and running, it's not a finished project. There are likely to be additional metrics to be added over time.
It's important to assign a project owner for any ongoing updates to the data dictionary, and a clear process for suggesting any updates or amends - this could be as simple as a form in your businesses project management tool.
Who typically uses a Master Data Dictionary?
The master data dictionary should be used by everyone in the business.
It's a valuable resource for anyone needing to understand the data that the business is collecting, and how it's being used.
What if there is disagreement on the definition or calculation of a metric?
This is bound to happen from time to time, particularly in larger businesses.
It's important to have a clear process for handling any disagreements, and ideally this should be built into the data dictionary itself.
For example, you might want to include a section for comments or suggestions on each metric.
Can I use a spreadsheet to create a data dictionary?
Yes, you can. But it's probably not the best idea.
A spreadsheet is likely to be less user-friendly than a purpose-built wiki or tool, and it might be more difficult to keep track of any updates or changes.
Can you give a definition of what master data is?
In short, it’s a central source of truthful information.
Master data is the information that describes a business's core entities. It is accurate, consistent, and uniform meaning it can be shared across an organization with no formatting issues.