Governed Business Glossary 101: What Does It Entail?

Updated September 04th, 2023
Governed business glossary

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A governed business glossary is a formalized, central source of documentation that contains business terms, definitions, and metadata.

As organizations grow and diversify, the potential for confusion and misinterpretation of business terminology multiplies exponentially.

Misunderstandings may lead to ineffective strategies, failed projects, and even regulatory non-compliance.

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In this article, we will learn the structure, best practices, and immense benefits of implementing a governed business glossary.

Table of contents #

  1. What is a governed business glossary?
  2. Advantages
  3. How do you structure a governed business glossary in just 8 steps?
  4. 9 Best practices for building a governed business glossary
  5. Difference between governed business glossary and data dictionary
  6. Summary
  7. Related reads

What is a governed business glossary- Understanding with examples #

A governed business glossary is an important tool for understanding the meaning of terms in business can vary widely depending on the context or the department using them. It serves as a centralized repository where business terms, definitions, and attributes are stored and managed.

This glossary is “governed” in the sense that there are defined processes and responsible parties to maintain its accuracy, consistency, and relevance over time.

A governed business glossary acts as a reference for different departments within a business to ensure that everyone is aligned on the meaning, spelling, and usage of terms. The “governed” aspect refers to the set of policies, procedures, and roles that manage how the glossary is created, maintained, and used.

If you want to know about business glossaries check out the article → Business Glossary: The Key to Data Discovery and Governance

Example of a governed business glossary #

Imagine a multi-departmental corporation with units in finance, sales, marketing, and technology. Each of these departments might use the term “Customer” differently.

  • Finance: Customer refers to an entity that has made at least one payment to the company.
  • Sales: Customer refers to any entity currently in or previously in the sales pipeline, including leads and prospects.
  • Marketing: Customer refers to anyone who has interacted with the company’s brand, which can include social media followers.
  • Technology: Customer could refer to users of the internal tools and software that the tech team provides to other departments.

Here’s where a governed business glossary comes into play:

  1. Centralization: All these definitions would be stored in one central glossary.
  2. Standardization: One definition might be chosen as the “official” one, or each departmental variation could be listed alongside each other for clarity.
  3. Ownership: There would be a designated person or team responsible for updating the glossary, resolving disputes about terminology, and ensuring that changes are communicated.
  4. Access: All employees would have access to this glossary and would be encouraged to consult it when confusion arises.
  5. Governance: Policies would be in place to guide how new terms are added, who approves them, and how they are disseminated throughout the organization.

Check this article to learn how to write successful data governance policies.

By using a governed business glossary, the corporation ensures that all employees have a shared understanding of key terms, leading to less confusion and more effective cross-departmental collaboration.

What are the advantages of a governed business glossary over a business glossary? #

A business glossary and a governed business glossary both aim to provide clarity and consistency for terms and definitions within an organization.

However, the ‘governed’ aspect of a governed business glossary brings in structured processes and defined responsibilities that offer several advantages:

  1. Consistency and standardization
  2. Change management
  3. Accountability
  4. Improved communication
  5. Integration with data governance
  6. Audit trail
  7. Enhanced collaboration
  8. Reduced risk
  9. User trust

Let us understand each of them in detail:

1. Consistency and standardization #

A governed business glossary ensures that there’s a single source of truth for business terms and definitions. This reduces ambiguity and ensures that different departments or teams use terms in a consistent manner.

In a governed business glossary, every term has a standardized definition, often along with contextual explanations to provide clarity for its usage across various departments.

Consistency is not just about having a single definition; it’s also about how that definition is interpreted and applied across the organization. This is especially crucial for multinational corporations or organizations with diverse business units.

2. Change management #

With governance in place, there are defined processes for how terms can be added, modified, or removed. This helps in keeping the glossary up-to-date and relevant, while also ensuring that changes are well-documented and vetted.

Business terms evolve over time due to regulatory changes, shifts in strategy, or advancements in technology. A governed glossary outlines the process for submitting changes, evaluating their impact, and implementing them.

An ad-hoc or ungoverned glossary lacks these formal mechanisms, which can lead to outdated or even conflicting information being circulated.

3. Accountability #

A governed glossary assigns roles and responsibilities. Specific individuals or teams are designated as stewards or owners of specific terms, ensuring there’s accountability for the accuracy and appropriateness of definitions.

In a governed glossary, each term or category of terms often has an identified ‘owner’ or ‘steward.’ This individual or team is responsible for the accuracy, relevance, and timely update of the term. Accountability ensures that someone is always responsible for maintaining the integrity of the glossary.

4. Improved communication #

By having a clear governance structure, it ensures that when changes are made, relevant stakeholders are informed. This ensures everyone is on the same page and reduces the risk of misunderstandings.

With governance in place, there’s a defined channel of communication to disseminate changes or updates. Whether it’s through newsletters, internal meetings, or digital dashboards, information is systematically distributed, ensuring everyone is aware of the most current definitions and usage guidelines.

5. Integration with data governance #

Often, a governed business glossary is part of a broader data governance initiative. This means that terms in the glossary can be linked to specific data assets, giving a clear understanding of how data is defined and used across the organization.

Data governance encompasses policies and procedures that manage data quality, data management, and data protection. A governed business glossary can be an integrated component of this larger framework. For instance, if a term like “56” is defined in the glossary, it could be linked to specific datasets, metrics, or analytical models used to calculate this value.

6. Audit trail #

A governed process typically comes with version control and an audit trail. This provides a historical record of changes, which can be crucial for regulatory compliance and for resolving any disputes or misunderstandings about term definitions.

Governance mechanisms often come with tracking and auditing capabilities. This is critical for tracing who made what changes, when, and why. This feature is particularly valuable in regulated industries like healthcare and finance, where documenting changes can be a compliance requirement.

7. Enhanced collaboration #

Clear governance processes can facilitate cross-departmental or cross-team collaboration. It provides a platform where different parts of the organization can propose terms, discuss definitions, and arrive at a consensus.

Governance often involves a review process where multiple stakeholders contribute to definitions. For example, if the marketing department proposes a new term, it might go through reviews from legal, sales, and operations to ensure the term fits universally. This collaborative approach enriches the glossary and increases organizational alignment.

8. Reduced risk #

Misunderstandings or misinterpretations can lead to poor business decisions, inefficiencies, or even regulatory violations. A governed glossary helps mitigate this risk by ensuring clarity and common understanding.

Miscommunication can lead to significant business risks, from financial loss to compliance issues. A governed glossary minimizes these risks by providing clear, universally-accepted definitions.

9. User trust #

Knowing that there’s a structured process behind the glossary can boost confidence and trust among users. They’re more likely to rely on a source they know is regularly updated, monitored, and maintained.

If employees know that the glossary they are using is regularly updated, vetted, and governed, they are more likely to trust it as a reliable resource for their work. Trust in foundational documents like a business glossary is essential for achieving high levels of data literacy and a data-driven culture.

In essence, while both types of glossaries provide value in terms of defining and clarifying business terms, the governance aspect ensures that this value is maximized, sustained, and adapted to changing business needs.

If you want to know the challenges of business glossary check out → Five Common Business Glossary Challenges.

How do you structure a governed business glossary in just 8 steps? #

Creating a structured and governed business glossary requires planning, collaboration, and ongoing maintenance.

Here’s a step-by-step guide along with a template to get you started.

1. Identify stakeholders and assign roles #

  • Hold an initial meeting with department heads to explain the importance of the glossary and its governance.
  • Create a working group that includes representatives from key departments and subject matter experts.
  • Clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of each participant, such as data stewards responsible for accuracy and business analysts responsible for gathering terms.

2. Outline governance policies #

  • Draft a governance policy document outlining the procedures for adding, modifying, or deleting terms.
  • Specify the approval process, including who needs to approve changes.
  • Define an escalation process for disputes over definitions.

3. Choose a platform #

  • Assess the requirements for storing and accessing the glossary. Consider ease-of-use, accessibility, and scalability.
  • Evaluate and select an appropriate platform, such as data governance software, an internal Wiki, or even a well-structured Excel sheet.
  • Make sure that the platform supports version control and audit trails.

4. Collect initial terms #

  • Conduct interviews, surveys, or workshops within departments to identify initial terms.
  • Review internal documents, such as reports, whitepapers, and contracts, for common terms.
  • Consolidate the terms into a preliminary list for review.

5. Standardize definitions #

  • For each term, draft a clear and concise definition.
  • Consult departmental experts to ensure that definitions meet specific needs and don’t conflict with existing terminology.
  • Record alternate definitions, if necessary, and specify which department they pertain to.

6. Approval workflow #

  • Submit each term and its definition to the working group for initial review.
  • If a term affects multiple departments, seek approvals from each affected department head.
  • Log all changes, approvals, and comments in a tracking system to maintain an audit trail.

7. Publish and share #

  • Once approved, publish the terms in the chosen platform.
  • Announce the publication through internal communication channels like email, newsletters, or intranet postings.
  • Provide training or tutorials on how to use and contribute to the glossary.

8. Maintain and update #

  • Schedule regular reviews (e.g., quarterly or annually) to update the glossary.
  • Monitor the usage of the glossary to identify terms that may be confusing or misapplied, and address these issues proactively.
  • Keep an archive or change log that records when terms were added, changed, or deleted, as well as the rationale behind these changes.

By following these detailed steps, you ensure that your governed business glossary remains a living document that evolves with your organization while maintaining accuracy, consistency, and relevance.

9 Best practices for building a governed business glossary #

Creating and maintaining a governed business glossary is a dynamic process that requires careful planning, coordination, and ongoing efforts for it to be effective.

Below are some best practices to ensure that your governed business glossary meets its objectives:

  1. Involvement of key stakeholders
  2. Structured and comprehensive definitions
  3. Governance and ownership
  4. Platform and accessibility
  5. Standardization and consistency
  6. Communication and training
  7. Ongoing maintenance and reviews
  8. Compliance and auditing
  9. Monitoring and analytics

Let us understand each of them in detail:

1. Involvement of key stakeholders #

  • Early engagement: Involve key stakeholders from the start to ensure that the glossary addresses the needs and concerns of all departments and business units.
  • Diverse participation: Include representatives from various departments like IT, Finance, Marketing, Sales, and Operations to capture a broad range of business terms.

2. Structured and comprehensive definitions #

  • Contextual definitions: Make sure that the definitions are not only accurate but also include context and examples to ensure clarity.
  • Multiple perspectives: Capture alternate definitions, acronyms, or phrases that are department-specific but relate to the same term. Clearly indicate the different usages to avoid confusion.

3. Governance and ownership #

  • Designate owners: Each term should have a designated owner who is responsible for its accuracy, relevance, and timely updating.
  • Approval workflow: Create a formal process for adding new terms or updating existing ones. This should involve reviews and approvals by subject matter experts.

4. Platform and accessibility #

  • Centralized repository: Use a centralized platform that is easily accessible to all employees, yet secure enough to protect sensitive information.
  • Version control: Implement version control to track changes over time, including who made the change, what was changed, and why.

5. Standardization and consistency #

  • Use a template: Utilize a standardized template for glossary entries to maintain consistency.
  • Categorization: Use categories and sub-categories to organize terms. This makes it easier for users to find the terms they’re looking for.

6. Communication and training #

  • User Training: Educate employees on how to use the glossary and why it’s important. This could be via workshops, e-learning modules, or instructional videos.
  • Regular updates: Keep the organization informed about any updates or new additions to the glossary.

7. Ongoing maintenance and reviews #

  • Scheduled reviews: Regularly review the glossary to remove outdated terms, update existing entries, and add new terms as necessary.
  • Feedback mechanism: Implement a way for employees to suggest new terms or amendments to existing terms.

8. Compliance and auditing #

  • Regulatory alignment: Ensure that definitions align with industry regulations and standards where applicable.
  • Audit trail: Maintain a record of all changes to terms, including who made the change, the date, and the reason for the change. This is particularly crucial for compliance with regulatory requirements.

9. Monitoring and analytics #

  • Usage tracking: Monitor how often the glossary is accessed and which terms are most frequently viewed. This can provide insights into what employees find most useful or confusing.
  • Feedback analysis: Regularly analyze feedback and queries related to the glossary to identify areas for improvement.

By adopting these best practices, organizations can maximize the value and effectiveness of their governed business glossary, thereby improving internal communication, decision-making, and compliance.

Difference between governed business glossary and data dictionary #

While both a governed business glossary and a data dictionary aim to bring clarity and standardization to terminology and data, they serve different purposes and are used in different contexts. Below is a table that highlights some key differences between the two:

CriteriaGoverned business glossaryData dictionary
PurposeTo standardize business terminology and ensure everyone in the organization is on the same page.To define the structure, type, and relationships of data within databases.
ScopeOrganization-wide, covering all departments and business units.Specific to a database or a software application.
AudienceBusiness stakeholders, analysts, data stewards, and sometimes even customers.Database administrators, data engineers, and software developers.
ContentContains definitions of business terms, their ownership, and contextual explanations.Contains metadata like table names, column names, data types, and constraints.
GovernanceStrong governance model with approval workflows for term inclusion and modification.Governance may vary; usually, changes are controlled by database or application owners.
FlexibilityMore flexible, as it includes different terms used across departments with their various meanings.More rigid, as it directly corresponds to the database schema.
Usage ExamplesOften includes examples to illustrate how terms are used in a business context.Might include sample queries or code snippets.
RelationshipsMay indicate relationships between business terms.Will indicate relationships between tables like foreign keys, indexes, etc.
Version controlUsually includes version history to track changes in definitions and usages over time.May or may not have versioning, depending on the system.
Regulatory alignmentMay include compliance guidelines related to business terms.Usually focuses on technical constraints and requirements.
Access levelGenerally accessible across the organization for transparency and education.Access is usually restricted to technical teams for security reasons.

By understanding these differences, you can better decide when to use a governed business glossary versus a data dictionary, or how to use them in tandem for maximum effectiveness and clarity.

Summarizing it all together #

A governed business glossary is not just a dictionary of terms; it’s a strategic asset that can transform the way an organization thinks, communicates, and makes decisions. By establishing a single source of truth for business terminology, a governed glossary reduces ambiguity, promotes transparency, and ensures compliance with internal and external regulations.

Its impact is felt across all strata of an organization—from C-suite executives making high-stakes decisions to frontline employees striving for day-to-day operational excellence. In an age where data is often dubbed as the ‘new oil,’ understanding that data’s context through standardized terminology is paramount.

A well-implemented governed business glossary is your key to unlocking the full potential of your organizational data, ensuring that everyone—whether in finance, marketing, operations, or IT—is not just speaking the same language, but understanding it too.

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