Developing and Adopting a Common Language: What's Required from an Organizational Perspective

David C. Hay, Dr. Thomas C. Redman, C. Lwanga Yonke, & John A. Zachman
David C. Hay, Dr. Thomas C. Redman, C. Lwanga Yonke, & John A. Zachman , Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by David C. Hay, Dr. Thomas C. Redman, C. Lwanga Yonke, & John A. Zachman

It seems obvious enough that companies, government agencies, and non-profits would benefit from a common language. Without it, coordinating work is more difficult, computers "don't talk," and basic questions such as "how many customers do we have?" yield differing answers, making it more difficult to run the business.

It is observably true that most organizations do not have a common language and experience many such problems. Further, efforts to put all the data in one place have not yielded a common language. Nor has the latest generation of technologies, such as cloud-based data lakes.

These points led us to ask the following:

  1. What does it take, from an organization perspective, to develop and adopt a common language?
  2. Is doing so worth the trouble (i.e., what is the compelling business case for a common language)?

This report deals with the first question. Specifically, we've identified ten criteria, grouped into four broad areas

  • Sense of Urgency,
  • Long-Term Thinking,
  • People, Process, and Structure, and
  • Adoption and Growth
that we consider necessary if an organization is to have much chance with a common language. Each is tough on its own and, taken together, the range of coordinated effort is staggering.

We do not yet know if a common vocabulary is always worth the trouble. Indeed, we suspect that answer will depend on the individual company's business circumstances. And it may well be possible that a company could develop, adopt, and benefit from a very restricted common vocabulary. We aim to explore these topics in a later paper when we report on question 2, above.

As a standalone, this document aims to both:

  • Educate those contemplating a common language, and
  • Serve as a "checklist." Do not go forward with a common vocabulary effort unless and until you can meet these criteria.

One final note: Our work was guided by one unqualified success, a few partial successes, and many failures. The unqualified success was Aera Energy LLC, the Bakersfield, CA (USA)-based oil and gas company. Herein we use "bullets" to explore how some of these criteria were/are implemented at Aera.

Download the full paper here:

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Standard citation for this article:

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David C. Hay, Dr. Thomas C. Redman, C. Lwanga Yonke, & John A. Zachman , "Developing and Adopting a Common Language: What's Required from an Organizational Perspective" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 21, No. 7, (Jul. 2020)

About our Contributor:

David C. Hay, Dr. Thomas C. Redman, C. Lwanga Yonke, & John A. Zachman
David C. Hay, Dr. Thomas C. Redman, C. Lwanga Yonke, & John A. Zachman ,

David C. Hay

David Hay has been producing data models to support strategic and requirements planning for more than thirty years. As President of Essential Strategies International, Mr. Hay has worked in a variety of industries and government agencies. These include banking, clinical pharmaceutical research, and all aspects of oil production and processing. Projects entailed defining corporate information architecture, identifying requirements, and planning strategies for the implementation of new systems.

Mr. Hay's most recent book, "Achieving Buzzword Compliance: Data Architecture Language and Vocabulary," applies the concepts of consistent vocabulary to the data architecture field itself.
Previously, Mr. Hay wrote, "Enterprise Model Patterns: Describing the World," an "upper ontology" consisting of a comprehensive model of any enterprise. It is the successor to his ground-breaking 1995 book, "Data Model Patterns: Conventions of Thought"—the original book describing standard data model configurations for standard business situations.

In addition, Mr. Hay has written other books on metadata, requirements analysis, and UML. He has spoken at numerous international and local data architecture, semantics, user group, and other conferences.

Dr. Thomas C. Redman

Dr. Thomas C. Redman, "the Data Doc", helps start-ups and multinationals, ++9senior executives, Chief Data Officers, and leaders buried deep in their organizations chart their courses to data-driven futures, with special emphasis on quality and analytics. He can be reached at info[at]dataqualitysolutions[dot]com.

C. Lwanga Yonke

A seasoned information quality practitioner at Aera Energy LLC, C. Lwanga Yonke has successfully led teams in multiple areas including data architecture, data warehousing, business intelligence, information quality, and data governance. His initial experience is in petroleum engineering and operations.

He is a founding member of IQ International (prev. IAIDQ) and served as a volunteer and advisor to its Board for Directors for many years.

John A. Zachman

John Zachman is the originator of the "Framework for Enterprise Architecture" (The Zachman Framework) which has received broad acceptance around the world as an integrative framework, an ontology for descriptive representations of Enterprises. Mr. Zachman is not only known for this work on Enterprise Architecture, but is also known for his early contributions to IBM's Information Strategy methodology (Business Systems Planning) as well as to their Executive team planning techniques (Intensive Planning).

Mr. Zachman retired from IBM in 1990, having served them for 26 years. He is Chief Executive Officer of his own education and consulting business, Zachman International® and Owner and Executive Director of the Federated Enterprise Architecture Certification Institute in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Zachman has been focusing on Enterprise Architecture since 1970 and has written extensively on the subject. He has directed innumerable executive team planning sessions. He travels nationally and internationally, teaching and consulting, and is a popular conference speaker, known for his motivating messages on Enterprise Architecture issues. He has spoken to many thousands of enterprise managers and information professionals on every continent.

Read All Articles by David C. Hay, Dr. Thomas C. Redman, C. Lwanga Yonke, & John A. Zachman
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