If you can see it, you can solve it

Sometime during the past month, I read or heard “If you can see it, you can solve it”. I have not been able to get that little phrase out of my mind. Maybe that is because my career focuses on the visual presentation of data. I see the data model as something more than just an item to check off in a project plan. It is the cornerstone of making data understandable to a wide audience.

I looked for some statistics to support my view that the visual presentation of information is key in understanding the business case that it represents. Here are a few pertinent facts that support the importance of going beyond the written word and presenting the facts visually.

  • The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than the time it takes for the brain to decode text.
  • Visual content makes up 93% of all human communication.
  • 40% of Internet users provide better and more favorable responses to a particular piece of visual content than other plain and text-based content.

I am sure I am not alone in having to explain to IT projects why they need a data model. I am a pretty flexible data architect. Over the years, I have developed a methodology that incorporates data modeling in different ways based on the scope, complexity, development methodology and urgency of the project. I definitely have abandoned the rigid one size fits all data design method I championed over the years.

I consider the data architect a marketer of sorts. The data model, aka ERD, is one of the easiest ways to sell my services. Data is complex. It has become more complex over the years and will become even more complex in the coming years. At the same time, data consumers must react faster and look for the Readers Digest version of the data. That is something that the data model can deliver.

Don’t mistake flexibility in data modeling as the shunning of data design principles. Most data architects dislike the word, agile. However, success in data modeling is about agility. It is about knowing when to model, how much time to allocate to model, what audience to model to, and what level detail to present the data model.

Presenting data in a way that helps our consumers understand the data helps our enterprises solve the business problems that drive the success of the enterprise. That points to the importance of visually presenting data in a ways that our audiences will use it.

  • Know your users and target your models. There is no single view of the data model. Create ERDs that speak to the consumer’s needs and level of technical knowledge.
  • All data models do not need to be a ERwin data model. Some audiences respond to Visio or PowerPoint diagrams. The visual presentation of the flow of data can take other visual forms.
  • Data modeling is not necessarily linear. You may start with the database. You may start with requirements. You may start somewhere in between. It’s all good if you respect your data design principles.
  • Sometimes the data model can save the day when the subject database has not been modeled. Don’t overlook the value and power of reverse engineering.
  • Be the person who solves the data problem. A picture is worth a thousand words. Know when to employ your data modeling super powers to save the day.

Tom Bilcze

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