Business Glossary: Term Enablement

Last Published: Aug 16, 2023 |
Natalie Greenwood
Natalie Greenwood

Senior Principal Consultant, Data Strategy & Governance

Is your organization struggling with defining terms? Is the approval process creating a bottleneck? If so, you may need to update your data governance operating model.


You have been assigned as the data owner of a specific domain. You have 5 terms to define/approve for upload into your business glossary.

You are asked to attend a data governance council meeting to review the definitions. You walk in feeling confident, as you and your data steward spent a lot of time and energy considering the appropriate language to use for each term.

You present your findings. Suddenly, you are defending your definitions against rapid fire. The marketing team is debating your definition as it does not align with their thinking. The sales team is adamant the definition would not work for them, and the finance team is standing firm on their own version of the definition.

You leave the meeting without approval.

Unfortunately, this situation happens all too often and is the leading reason clients give up for having “failed” at standing up a data governance program.

“Definition Paralysis”

Business glossaries enable uniformity and a standard by providing business context to commonly used terms. There is a strong return on investment (ROI) that can be traced back to enabling a business glossary. Therefore, it is common for a business glossary to be prioritized on a data governance roadmap.

It sounds like a logical place to start, right? It is… as long as you have your data governance operating model established with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

If you do not have an operating model established to assign ownership or responsibility, you can find yourself in what I call “definition paralysis.” Definition paralysis is the inability to agree on a single definition for a specific term, resulting in no definition.

Definition paralysis most often occurs when a group of people are asked to agree on a single definition for a term that can have various meanings across different departments (as described in the mock situation above).

So, how do you avoid “definition paralysis”? Let us consider…

Business Glossary/Business Terms

A business glossary is made up of online glossaries of business terms and policies that define important concepts within an organization.

A business term is a word or phrase that uses business language to define relevant concepts for business users in an organization. A business term contains properties such as name, description, and usage. Glossary consumers understand business concepts, requirements and definitions from the information in the business term.

Business terms need to be defined by the business. Often, organizations do not have an operating model to define “who” is responsible and accountable for entering those terms and instead try to independently define terms as a group, sometimes via the DG council. This approach is intended to ensure everyone across various operational areas “agree” on the term prior to publication. However, agreement at that level rarely occurs, as each area has their own interpretation of the term, resulting in “definition paralysis.”

Avoiding Definition Paralysis

You can avoid definition paralysis by enabling a data governance operating model that includes roles/responsibilities with clearly defined boundaries for each level of the operating model.

Enabling your data governance operating model:

Below is an example of a data governance operating model.

The higher levels are strategic and include councils, steering committees, and sponsors, while the lower levels of the data governance operating model are more tactical and include data stewards and owners.

This model is intended to keep the data governance council and other higher-level resources focused on strategy, planning and roadmap progress instead of execution.

Below is a sample RASIC that describes the role of the data owner/steward.

As you can see from the RASIC, the data steward is responsible, and the data owner is accountable for defining and maintaining the business definitions within their assigned domain.

Note: The data owner is not required to gain approval from the data governance council prior to publishing a definition. In other words, if you are the “data owner,” the buck stops with you.

There are certainly situations where a term can have multiple meanings. In those scenarios, I suggest creating a single enterprise-level definition for the term and adding sub-terms and definitions to support business unit or departmental context.

In the example below, you can see that each department has created their own definition of “revenue” however, Finance is the ultimate owner of “revenue” and has the final say in the definition.

In this scenario, the definition provided by Finance is the corporate approved definition.

This approach may not work for all terms and there may be instances where approval from a council or governing body may be required, but that should be the exception, not the rule.

Updating Published Terms:

Definition paralysis can also occur when an owner is struggling with how to define the term. They are not confident with the language or specific wording, or simply lack the confidence to make a “final” decision.

The good news is that the business glossary can be easily updated, so there is no need to overanalyze your definition.

Additionally, it is common for an owner to publish a term with the intent to get feedback from other users and amend that definition later.

As you can see below, there is a change request workflow within the business glossary that can be leveraged by users to provide feedback. This is an excellent feature that can be used to validate your definition.

Change requests are routed directly to the owner for consideration and/or approval. It is a beautiful thing!

Bottom Line:

The key to enabling a business glossary is establishing roles/responsibilities early.

By doing this, you will:

  • Reduce any confusion related to definition approvals, workflows, etc.
  • Reduce red tape that creates unnecessary bottlenecks
  • Expedite the publication of data elements

Remember, the goal is to define and upload terms that can support the business. The sooner you enable your business, the better.

Learn more about how Informatica data governance solutions can help you support and enable your business. And discover how Informatica Professional Services provides expertise and guidance focused on your data-driven digital transformation.

First Published: Jun 02, 2022