Think about the challenge interpreters at the United Nations undertake. First, they need to understand the concepts being communicated. Next, they translate the concepts for people who speak different languages — without coloring the information with their own perspectives. These interpreters use an “internal resource” that maps terms and concepts. In the business technology world, when we formalize or automate such a resource, we create a conceptual reference model.
Because the terms and concepts in conceptual reference models represent the “stuff of the business,” not the stuff of IT, they make sense to business stakeholders. In his recent Executive Update, Connecting Inside and Outside the Enterprise, Cutter Consortium Senior Consultant Cory Casanave makes the case that the conceptual reference model, which defines the terms and concepts used by the enterprise and the communities in which it operates, provides the foundation needed for any “connection” architecture, capability, or project. Writes Casanave:
A conceptual reference model is not an overly simplified or abstracted data model. It is not a data warehouse. It is not a model of data at all; it is a model of the actual stuff of the business. For example, a conceptual model about loans refers to actual loans — the obligations between real businesses and people, not a “schema” describing loans. Does this mean we don’t care about data? Of course not! It means we understand that data about loans can be represented and encoded in many different ways for many different purposes. Understanding the business concept provides a reference point for these many different terms, data structures, applications, and technologies. Concepts define what our data structures mean; that is, their semantics.”
If you were to ask a group of business stakeholders to define “customer” or “product,” you may get different answers; on stakeholder may define the terms very differently than another. So, it’s logical that any data based on these terms may not necessarily be correctly interpreted. However, the well-defined concepts that emerge from a conceptual reference model make it possible for people and machines to extract the correct information from data and put it into the right context for effective communications and analytics.
Casanave reiterates, “well-defined business-centric concepts captured in a model provide the basis for mapping between, integrating, federating, and sharing information (e.g., about loans or customers) among different systems and communities, even when their vocabulary or “schema” seem unrelated.”
For More on Conceptual Reference Models
Cutter Consortium Research: Cutter clients can read more from Cory Casanave, and discover how to get started with conceptual reference models in the Executive Update, Connecting Inside and Outside the Enterprise.
Consulting: Cutter Consortium Senior Consultant Cory Casanave is an expert in actionable architectures that bridge the gap between business strategy and realized capabilities. Learn how he can help your organization develop business-focused and mission-relevant models and leverage those models as part of your IT solutions.