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Data Models that Mom can use?

Posted by johnreynolds on September 18, 2008 at 3:17 PM PDT

Back when I was working on Tandy's DeskMate we were trying to build a personal computer "that Mom could use". I think we came pretty close to that goal... Mom could use it. Unfortunately Mom didn't want to use it :-(

Fast forward to today, and I am firmly entrenched in the wonderful world of Business Software Development Tools. I'm not so much interested in building software for businesses as I am in enabling businesses to build their own software - or at least play a much larger role in building that software.

On aspect of enabling business dudes is BPMN - Business Analysts and Programmers using this shared notation to carry on discussions. BPMN is pretty good, and reasonably easy to learn - When used properly it does embower business dudes without pissing off the programmers (too much).

Unfortunately, a Process Definition just isn't enough. It's important, but at best it's only half of the solution - You've got to define the Data too.

BPMN evangelist Bruce Silver is quite frank about this:

"Let's face it, without referencing data you can’t do a whole lot in BPM."

If you follow this link you'll see more from Bruce:

"Data modeling is a thorny issue in BPM because developers assume, often correctly, that business people do not understand all the technical details of data elements needed for optimum executable implementation."

Guilty as charged... I clearly remember getting a "D" in Information Structures at UTA on my first attempt- perhaps I was preoccupied chasing girls at the time, but data modelling is hard and I don't expect business folks to "get it".

Still... we do need a Business/Programmer shared language for Data Modelling. The business dudes need to be able to specify the information that they need to do all the things they do, while the programmers need to be able to augment and enhance (scrap and replace) those definitions to make the software actually work.

In all honesty I don't know what this should look like... but I do know from first hand experience that some very smart business people don't have a clue what a Boolean is (until I explain it to them).

What do you think? Can we come up with a Data Modelling Notation that Mom can use?
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Hi John! altho i don't know much about BPM et al (thanks for that BPMN link), i did an functional requirement specification (FRS) document recently, and put in a section i called "the data dictionary" which indicated the database tables (and persistent objects).

I didn't specify the type, eg. Boolean vs Date vs Integer vs String. But i did give a description and sample data, e.g. "Trade Timestamp - the time as which the trade occurred eg. 2008/01/01 13:45:12." And so yes, i think it would be awesome to have a common language for types at BA's (business analysts innit) can familiarise themselves with! 'Cos i found that having this "data dictionary" really helped clarify the system being specified by this FRS document!

I'm not sure if and how other people describe the data model in such FRS documents?

actually i'm dreaming/hoping of working hard over the next few months/years on a project to write a tool for modelling/FRS/UML/prototyping - - but you never know ith me, i never know with me ;) and ja, data model is core to that. Also "presentation models" et al