A data dictionary provides a database to store information about data items, such as the names of measured variables, their data types, formats, lengths, text descriptions and other details needed to understand the data.
Many large organisations and enterprises utilise data dictionaries to store information about the order of the data, therefore, it is a crucial tool for understanding, managing and maintaining consistent and accurate data. With a clear and concise description of each data element, users within your organisation remain on the same page when it comes to metrics and key definitions used in the company.
An active data dictionary can be seen as a repository of information that lets users interact and perform various operations with the data, such as searching for more detailed information about a particular element, changing values or filtering out specific entries. Active data dictionaries are built within database management systems (DBMS), reflecting changes within the host database. Therefore, as soon as a user makes a modification in the database, the change will automatically take place in the data dictionary, keeping the information up to date.
On the other hand, a passive data dictionary is not maintained by the DBMS. Database structure changes must be manually applied in a passive data dictionary or with dedicated software. A passive data dictionary is often solely used to provide accurate descriptions and characteristics of the elements stored in the associated database tables, such as types and lengths, however, passive data dictionaries may not always reflect the latest state of a database because manual updates via database administrators can be more time-consuming to maintain, potentially leading to the risk of data becoming inaccurate.
It’s no easy task to create a data dictionary, but a well-maintained data dictionary is a fundamental tool for ensuring consistent and accurate data across an organisation, allowing users to understand the meaning and purpose of the data. Below we’ve outlined some key benefits of using a data dictionary.
• Serves as an important reference point for anyone accessing or analysing the data.
• Helps to ensure compliance with any existing data quality standards and regulations.
• Can help ensure consistent data across the organisation.
• Provides users with an organised structure, increasing efficiency when working with data.
• Can reduce the risk of errors related to data interpretation.
• Can be used as a tool for managing and organising the data
• Can provide an overview of all the elements stored in a database, helping users identify potential issues with accuracy or consistency.
• Enables organisations to better understand their physical data sources, facilitating informed decision-making.
• Improves communication between IT staff and business stakeholders by providing explicit definitions and descriptions of data elements.
A data dictionary contains several essential elements that provide a comprehensive overview of a dataset’s structure and characteristics. Whilst the structure of the database may vary, these elements typically include:
By encompassing these critical elements, a data dictionary serves as a fundamental resource for understanding, managing, and leveraging the data within an organization, promoting transparency, efficiency, and collaboration.
When you have a central repository built to provide definitions and other metadata for the data items in an organisation, you can streamline the process of collecting and analysing large amounts of data from various sources. In addition, data dictionaries can help ensure that everyone involved in a project uses the same terminology and definitions. This can be vital for ensuring accuracy and avoiding confusion.
Data dictionaries offer many advantages to users, including the ability to track changes, improve data quality and enforce consistency. However, there are also a few potential disadvantages to using passive data dictionaries. One downside is that they can require significant effort to maintain, particularly if the data set is extensive or frequently updated. As a result, a data dictionary may become outdated over time, which can lead to errors in the analysis of the data.
Here at The Data Privacy Group, we design and deliver Fully Outsourced Data Privacy Solutions. We can carry out a OneTrust implementation to operationalise your privacy program, enabling relevant users to quickly search and understand the data that impacts their decision-making. By harnessing the power of OneTrust, your data asset inventory, data dictionary, and business glossary can be dynamically populated – accurately reflecting the most up-to-date version of your data in real-time. Additionally, we offer tailored education and training services to ensure that you comply with applicable regulations or standards.
To learn more about us and how The Data Privacy Group can help you simplify data discovery and governance, please contact our friendly team today.