Alation prospects and new customers often ask about the availability of industry-specific catalog content. The type of content they ask about varies but usually includes glossary terms and occasionally more sophisticated ontological models for specific domains. Their goal is almost always to leverage known experience and expertise to accelerate and raise the quality of their catalog deployment.
Nuances of industry-standard content
The desire to not start from scratch is understandable, but there are some nuances that should be considered.
Unfortunately, no matter how ‘blessed’ and ‘conformed’ industry standard content might be, it's not likely to be an exact fit unless you are starting a brand new business. Otherwise, it will have to be blended into the existing vocabulary, processes, and models. That requires a great deal of collaboration, cross-functional alignment, change management, and a re-education process.
The more complex the content, the more complex the effort will be to blend it into a going enterprise. For instance, compare the introduction of a simple term glossary with an ontology that expresses how every entity in business is related, classified, and described. Gaining agreement on a glossary is not easy but it's clearly a lighter lift compared to a more comprehensive examination of business processes and potential reengineering that the adoption of a new ontology may require.
Industry-standard content such as data models, ontologies, reference data models, etc., can be used as a canonical model for mapping different data and definitional formats into a common structure. But should they be used for this? How do the investment and long-term benefit balance with the short-term needs of the business? These are key questions whose answers need to be clear to avoid the classic ‘build it and they will come' trap.
What is the best content?
Identifying the ‘best’ content is highly subjective and situationally specific. My preference is content that is directly applicable to the business such as key performance indicators, metrics, benchmarks, glossary terms, and sample reports as opposed to large frameworks and/or comprehensive ontological models. Why? I prefer to keep the emphasis on trying to provide quick time to impact and value and let the model evolve over time, rather than making the model the focus of attention from day one.
A great example of this type of content is offered by one of Alation’s partners called The Lab. They are a Texas-based consultancy that has been focused on business process optimization projects for the past 30 years. Over that time they have collected key content from more than 24 industries and are starting to offer it in load-ready content modules for the Alation catalog. At the moment they have insurance, finance, and CPG modules which each contains:
Term glossary and terms
Key Performance Indicator (KPI) definitions
Process workflow definitions
Best practice definitions
What is the practical value of industry-standard content?
As I implied above, there is no ‘free lunch’ related to the use of industry-standard content, but it's still worth using.
Starting from scratch is slow. Even though work will have to be done to align the standard content to your business, it is far better than starting with nothing. The bottom line is that it can help accelerate catalog implementation.
Industry-standard content provides the ability to identify content gaps and improve the robustness and completeness of catalog content.
Industry-standard content helps ‘seed’ stewards work and uses expert, third-party definitions to align content and gain agreement.
The future vision of content delivery
Content collection, creation, and curation are critical for achieving the adoption of the catalog as an enterprise knowledgebase. The challenge is that the collection of content, especially high-quality content, is very difficult. We try to poke, prod, demand, plead, rally, and recognize but that can only go so far. What we need is a templatized collection of industry-specific content that can be easily added to the catalog. It needs to be analogous to what we see in drawing tools like Visio, LucideCharts, and others. They have shape libraries for all kinds of things such as floor layouts, network architectures, flowcharts, etc. Users can simply browse the library and with a single click add specific shape templates to the palette. That is what we need for the catalog. Imagine being able to browse an industry content library from within the catalog configuration UI. Then simply click on content types such as glossaries and have them added. The Lab is already on that path with the creation of its content modules and API load-scripts. Other partners are also considering packaging their IP in the same way, while at the same time we are considering how we might make it easier to expose the configuration of these from within the catalog UI. It's my feeling that we are on the threshold of a much-needed evolution in the way that we share and reuse industry-specific contextual knowledge and I am very excited to see what the future holds.