In metadata management, we often talk about data dictionaries and business glossaries. Although they might sound similar, they’re actually quite different! Let’s take a look at their differences and relations.

What is a data dictionary?

A data dictionary is a collection of descriptions of data objects or items in a data model.

These descriptions can include attributes, fields, or even properties on their data such as their types, transformations, relations, etc.

Data dictionaries help data explorers better understand their data and metadata. Usually in the form of tables or spreadsheets, data dictionaries are a must have IT knowledge for technical users such as developers, data analysts, data scientists, etc.


What is a business glossary?

While data dictionaries are useful to technical users, a business glossary is meant to bring meaning and context to data in all departments of the enterprise.

A business glossary is therefore a place where business and/or data terms are defined. It may sound simple, however, it is rare that all employees in an organization share a common understanding of even basic terms such as “contact” and “customer”.

Example of a business glossary:

The main differences between data dictionaries and business glossaries are:

Data dictionaries deal with database and system specifications, mostly used by IT teams. Business glossaries are more accessible and standardize definitions for everyone in the organization.

Data dictionaries usually come in the form of schemas, tables, columns, etc. whereas a business glossary provides a unique definition for business terms in textual form.

A business glossary cross references terms and their relationships whereas data dictionaries do not.

What is the relation between a data dictionary and a business glossary?

The answer is simple: a business glossary provides meaning to the data dictionary.

For example, a US social security number (SSN) will be defined as “a unique number assigned by the US government for the purpose of identifying individuals within the US Social Security System” in the business glossary. In the data dictionary, the term SSN is defined as “a nine character string typically displayed with hyphens”.

If a data citizen ever has a doubt on what the term “SSN” means in the context of their data dictionary, they can always search for the associated business term inside the business glossary.


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Our tool also provides a user friendly and intuitive way to build and import your business glossaries in order to link these definitions with any Zeenea’s concepts.

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