Why your business shouldn’t have multiple glossaries
– except when it should

Terry Smith, Intraversed


Why your business shouldn’t have multiple glossaries

“We’ve already got our own. We don’t need another one.”
“Ours works for us, just fine.”
“We rely on industry standard definitions”
“Why should we use a different one we don’t have control over?”

Heard these before?

If you’re involved with your organisation’s business term glossary and trying to get buy-in and active usage across functional areas, comments like these are probably pretty common.

Achieving the goal of a unified corporate language can feel impossible.

People don’t like to make effort without seeing a clear and strong reward. And if they’re already happy with their localised glossary, the reward of a centralised one looks pretty slim.

For them.

But for others, and for the business as a whole, multiple glossaries:

  • lead to different definitions of the same term – so, when the term is a metric to be calculated, which calculation is the right one?

  • create likelihood of miscommunication between functional areas

  • create the risk of unidentified misunderstanding of reports and other information

  • leave I.T. without solid reference points for business requests

  • cannot be centrally managed, so may conflict, be out of date and misused, etc.

  • leave a lot to guesswork, when it comes to reporting, which further represents financial, legal, regulatory and reputational risk

  • cause high levels of unnecessary duplication of definition writing

That’s a lot of problems, a lot of risk and a lot of unnecessary time, money and effort.

A centralised glossary can resolve it all. And an added bonus – if done correctly, building a central glossary can establish or enhance your governance community.

The bigger picture wins of a centralised glossary

Further to these significant benefits, there are some other big-ticket items on the list of reasons for centralising.

Your C Suite has a lot riding on information quality.

It’s your C Suite, in particular your CFO and CEO, who depend on quality information, in reports and dashboards, to determine the state of the business as a whole. They’re making big decisions about spending, direction and growth opportunities based on that reporting. A centralised glossary is the primary way you can ensure the quality of the information they use.

Analytics and reporting projects and builds will be more accurately scoped, priced and more likely to be successful.
If the definitions in your glossary are accurately and robustly defined, no one will be in any doubt as to what a term means. That means when business staff ask IT for something new, they reference the glossary and ask for exactly what they want, and IT checks the glossary to ensure they get exactly the right data for that business request.

Everyone will know (not just assume they know) what they’re asking for or looking for, and analysts will more accurately understand what it will take to provide the requested outputs.

The ultimate outcome? Less project failure, cheaper projects and less need for work arounds to clean unreliable reporting outputs in order to make them accurate.

Finding and resolving issues with reporting information is easier.
In our experience, many reporting issues, including those currently ‘solved’ via workarounds, and those numbers that have proven to be completely unattainable (even though logically they should be very attainable), are the result of poorly defined or misunderstood business terms.

Clarify the business language in a centralised glossary and you can begin identifying information that uses language in ways that aren’t aligned with the glossary definitions. This cross referencing of language use in information & reporting artefacts against the official language outlined in your glossary, will quickly bring to light discrepancies between them. It’s in those discrepancies that you’ll find the bulk of your reporting problems and you’ll see how to resolve them.

So, when should you have separate glossaries?

Actually, that’s a trick question.

On one hand, we don’t believe you should ever have them.

But we do believe there’s a need for every term to be “owned” by a specific functional area. So, it makes sense to have what we call “libraries” within your glossary – every term is assigned to a library, which denotes its ownership.

By using libraries and ownership hierarchies, functional areas that want to ensure they retain “control” over the official definition of the terms that relate to their work can be assured that they will.

Enforcing ownership hierarchies to your terms also means there’s accountability given to specific people to ensure definitions get written and are agreed on by relevant stakeholders of that term.

By instituting libraries within a single glossary, as opposed to many functional area glossaries, you ensure each term appears only once (no duplication) and each definition is applied to only one term (no two terms mean the same things – though synonyms or superseded terms should be noted with the current term). Further, while the term is assigned to only one library, and therefore owned by only one function area, the definition can be seen and commented on by anyone, ensuring the definition is understood and can be reassessed if it isn’t acceptable to all stakeholders.

If your glossary tool won’t support this kind of categorisation of terms

We have written before about what you should look for in a glossary tool (Read that blog here). However, we’ve not written specifically about this library, or classification, feature.

It’s definitely a feature that takes your glossary’s ability to deliver quality ROI to the next level. Categorisation, ownership and governance are key to a glossary tool that really packs a punch and knocks information management quality out of the park.

Our glossary tool, The Intralign Encyclopaedia, is built around our award-winning Intralign Ecosystem for information management, which includes a library classification system like we’ve discussed above, along with an accountability hierarchy of librarians and head librarians and a governance monitoring tool to make measuring ownership activity easy.

Whether or not our tool is the right one for you, we strongly recommend you ask your software sales reps whether their glossary tool can deliver these components. If not, you’re disadvantaging your business and reducing likelihood of strong ROI on the cost of that software.

Want a demo of The Intralign Encyclopaedia?

Contact us here and we can set up a demo of the Intralign Encyclopaedia for you. It’s glossary software that delivers gold standard visibility, accountability, capability and measurability to your information management landscape.

You’ve never seen your information so clearly.

Terry Smith, Intraversed

Terry Smith

Terry is a co-founder & Chief Education Officer at Intraversed. She spends her days helping information governance teams implement the Intralign Ecosystem, an award winning methodology that builds stable information foundations for reliable reporting.

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