Identifying Activities (“How”)

This is the third in a series of posts about how to identify entities in data sources that can readily be classified as belonging to each of the 6BI Business Object Categories (BOCs): Parties, Things, Activities, Events, Locations and Motivators.  The second post in the series (on Things, the “What” aspect) can be found at https://birkdalecomputing.com/2017/05/04/identifying-things/ .

The Activities BOC identifies How things get produced and consumed by parties. Concepts and objects in this BOC capture data about the means by which products or payments flow from one party to another, or how an enterprise carries out its work[i].  Data element and data element collection names you may encounter that belong to the Activities BOC include, but are not limited to, names in the following table[ii].  The list gives you a hint of what kind of names to look for in putting together a 6BI Analytic Schema for enabling your data to answer business questions.

An Activity is the most general super-type, in this BOC, encompassing Function and Process[iii].  Functions are intended to describe how an organization’s mission is planned to be carried out, and Processes describe how the mission is made real.  In the design of the Analytic Schema, data that identify and describe functions is almost always used in the source system as a type of reference data and will typically be brought into the Analytic Schema as text data in dimension members.  The maintenance of this data should be under the control of Data Governance.  The governance of data is itself both a function and a process and as such its performance can also be measured.  If one were to design a schema for measuring the performance of the Data Governance function a hierarchical collection of its sub-functions would be identified.  As we will see, functions also play a significant role in the Motivators BOC, but that will come later.

In data modeling, I have observed that we will more often model processes than functions.  A process can be either a Business_Process or a System_Process, but in either case the “process” is how something gets done.  This is accomplished by transforming either concepts or objects (or both) into different states.  It is the contribution of this transformation toward some goal that we need to measure.  Keep in mind it is “how” something gets done that we are measuring here, not “what” gets done.  This is vitally important to analytics and business intelligence because there is a lot of potential gain in improving how something is done, even if  what is produced (or consumed) remains unchanged.  For example, decreasing processing time, reducing waste and realigning responses to demand are all readily actionable.  For marketing purposes, how a product is produced or provided [iv] disappears into the product itself, and so is quite often overlooked as a separate factor in measurement.  In business systems quite often the names we look for to identify activities contain the word Transaction in some way.

Another feature of a process is that it transforms things, and these transformations usually take place via some Mechanism.  Mechanisms include Sales, Purchases, Receiving and Shipments.  A process can also be represented by a document such as a Request, an Order, an Invoice, a Manifest, or a Receipt.  It is the data about the transformation, perhaps recorded in a document, or perhaps not, that we want to measure.  We measure the impact on the parties and things participating in the transformation and not the parties and things themselves.  This is a subtle but important difference.  An activity’s quantities, values and description are the record of “How” the process produced a result.

An activity is often the source of one or more events, and an event is often the source of one or more activities, but activities and events are not exactly the same thing, and are not interchangeable. We will visit the Events BOC in a future post.

[i] David C. Hay, Data Model Patterns, A Metadata Map, 2006.

[ii] I would like to thank Barry Williams and his excellent Database Answers website http://www.databaseanswers.org/data_models/ for providing many of the table name examples.

[iii] David C. Hay, Data Model Patterns, A Metadata Map, 2006.

[iv]  The distinction between “produced” and “provided” is made to distinguish between, for example, manufacturing and retailing.

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