Browsing articles in "Blog"

Changing Tools? Here’s Some Free Advice That’s Paid For

Feb 11, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development  //  2 Comments

imageIs your project suffering?  Are people struggling with their current toolset?  If they haven’t had training in the tool ("I’ve been modeling for 40 years; I don’t need training" or "There’s documentation; I’ll read it someday"), changing tools isn’t going to help solve the problem.

If your process is broken, if your resources are lacking training in the tool, let me do the math for you:

New Tool +
Broken Process +
Lack of Training =

Old Problem with a New Notation


I should also mention that switching tools to try to fix a process, people, or training problem will lead to:

  • Project delays
  • Increased project risk
  • Increased budgets
  • Decreased productivity
  • Decreased confidence in IT
  • Decreased team morale

If you don’t fix your process, people, or training issues, all the tools in the world aren’t going to provide benefits you think you are going to get.

You are most welcome.

The Best Data Modeler is a Lazy Data Modeler – #tsql2sday Post

Feb 8, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Modeling, Database  //  2 Comments

imageSpecial note: This post is part of TSQL Tuesday , a special blog posting monthly event based on a SQL Server/data topic chosen by one blogger.  I’d love to see more data architects be part of the blog conversations.

I frequently hear from project team members that they’ve never used the automation features of their data modeling tools.  Some of the reasons they give:

  • I’m not a programmer.  It is not fair to expect me to to know how to program in order to use these tools.
  • I have no idea how to use it and don’t have the time to find out
  • Nothing I do can be automated; it’s all one-off tasks
  • You can automate some of my work???

I think if you are giving these reasons without even trying, you a missing out on one of the niftiest features of your tools. 

imageI’m not a Programmer

Great! Neither am I.  The good news is that many tools don’t require you to have full blown programmer skills in order to automate data modeling tasks.  They have macro-like languages that require a bit of logic skills, but not much more.  For instance, Embarcadero ER/Studio XE uses a macro language called Sax Basic that is very similar to VBscript.  I’m lucky in that I used BASIC early in my career and am generally familiar with the language.  The toughest part is learning the functions, objects, and properties that are specific to ER/Studio, but thankfully there is a built in Help system that does a half decent job of helping you use them.

I Have No Idea How to Use It

That’s okay, because I don’t start with a blank macro when I go to automate a task; I just start with an existing one that is close to the same thing and tailor it to what I need to do.  I needed to export some meta data from my model to Excel, so I opened an existing macro that exported a bunch of data and tailored it to include the data I wanted, in the format I wanted it.

We host a mailing list/forum just for macros and automation of data modeling tools in our InfoAdvisors User Discussion Groups.  There are sample models that others have tailored and community members who are willing to help you through a tough part.  Also, most vendors have similar resources on their websites.

InfoAdvisors ER/Studio Macro

Nothing I Do Can Be Automated

I think you must be spending a huge amount of time clicking and waiting when you could be pushing a button and doing something else like grabbing a cup of coffee or answering a question on a forum…or even helping out a team member.  For instance, some of the macros that have been posted to our communities are:

ER/Studio Exporting All a Model’s Submodels as Images

ER/Studio Macro to Convert 1 Datatype to another Datatype

ER/Studio Macro to Add all Entities from a Model to It’s Submodel

ER/Studio Macro to Print PDFs of all Submodels Completely Unattended

ERwin Macro to Generate DDL for a DBMS not Currently Supported

imageMost of the macros I write tend to be to make some boring aspects of my job less boring by allowing me to do something else.  This means printing out my entire model, exporting images, making mass updates, etc.  If it has an algorithm that I can automate, I’m going to invest 15-20 minutes so that I don’t have to spend hours or even hundreds of hours over the course of a project doing those non-architecture tasks.

Another major use of automation I do is for setting properties for my DBAs.  Their standards and preferences should be automatable.  How FKs are named, how indexes should be names, which datatypes should be used, etc.  The fact that I can run a quick macro to do these and keep my DBAs happy, well, that’s priceless.  They love me for it <crickets, crickets>…well they should love me for it.

You can Automate Some of my Work???

Yes.  Not really the analytical parts, but some of the more mundane, boring, "change all these but not those" tasks.  Sure, finding and tailoring a macro takes time, but it is so worth it the next time you push a button, wander off to the coffee room to refill your 31 oz. Trenta cup with high-octane coffee.  Managers really don’t want you spending times on tasks that nearly anyone with mouse skills could do.  By using macros and APIs, you can add significant hours of productivity to your day.  Let’s also admit that computers are generally better at doing mass changes more accurately than we are. 

So let’s summarize:

  1. Automating boring tasks makes you happier.
  2. Happier Data Architects are better Data Architects
  3. Automated recurring, boring tasks make bosses happier
  4. Automating tasks makes for more accurate work
  5. Saving time for you and your team members makes everyone happier.

A Lazy Data Modeler is a Better Data Modeler.

7 Mistakes Webinar Follow Up

Jan 27, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data Modeling, Speaking  //  3 Comments

imageFirst, I’d like to thank all of you who registered for my Enterprise Data Modeling: 7 Mistakes you Can’t Afford to Make. This was an incredibly successful event, with:

  • 723 Registrants
  • 313 Attendees
  • 90+% attendees who had the webinar "active"

That last stat, a guess at the average I saw as I was presenting, is a feature of GoToWebinar that measures at any point in time how many attendees have the meeting "in focus" on their screen.  I am also guilty of multi-tasking while attending webinars — checking my e-mail, chatting, conversing on Twitter, etc. — so I do understand that unlike an in-person presentation I can’t expect everyone to be completely focused on the slides during the whole hour.  I do think that this average means that people were actively engaged in what was happening for nearly all of the presentation.  I’m very happy with the registration and attendee numbers.  I think these are the highest I’ve ever attained for an online event.  I’m honoured that so many of you were able to make time in your busy schedules to spend with me.  Thank you.

One of the questions I got was about data modeling books I recommend.  These are the ones I mentioned:

  • The Data Model Resource Book, Volumes I, II, and III – Wiley – Len Silverston and others – ISBN 0471380237, 0471353485, 0470178450
  • Data Modeling Essentials, 3rd Edition – Morgan Kaufmann – Graeme Simsion and Graham Witt – ISBN 0126445516


Some of the questions I received via GoToWebinar:

Q: Any thoughts on the common pit falls in reverse engineering databases

Q: Is it possible for Karen to identify the pros/cons between Erwin and ER/Studio?

Q: I’ve heard other presentations which point out business users are intimidated or put off by "modeling". Do you have suggestions for making the topic accessible and valuable?

Q: What are the 7 mistakes?

Q: Can you advise if you have any tips on Industry Models to Launch your enterprise modelling with ER Studio? Does ER Studio Partner with any industry model suppliers?

Q: just a confirmation: when a non-Data architect/modeler (like a Business User) is given access to the model, the access is purely a read only, right?

Q: The reality with which I’m faced is that legacy databases use different terminology for the same entities. For example, in one table the entity may be called "deal" and in another table the same entity may be called "product" Does ER Studio provide a way to link both of these to a single entity in the logical model?

Q: What level of detail do you recommend that we display to the end users?

Q: If an organization is starting out or looking to start out with enterprise data architecture, where would you recommend that they start? Any books?

Q: Currently I create data models for specific application databases but I have noticed E/R Studio having sample models comprising of source and target systems. What is the recommend practice?

Q: In ER Studio, is the diagram considered to be a ‘report’ of what is in the model, or is the diagram the model itself?

imageThose were all great questions.  You can view the recording to see how I tackled them.  Also, I added 18 MORE mistakes to the end of the presentation as a bonus. 

We used the hashtag #7Mistakes on Twitter.  It’s harder for me to respond to questions on Twitter while I’m presenting, but I did respond during the webinar to a couple of them.  Again, listen to the recording to see what I said.

In the next few days you should be receiving the companion whitepaper that Embarcadero sponsored.  I hope you find it thought provoking.  I’d love to continue the conversation about these topics, even the "Wait, there’s More!" bullet points that I teased you with at the end of the presentation.

Perhaps we could discuss this during one of my upcoming Office Hours.

Office Hours with DataChick (Karen Lopez)

Barbie and Barbie Talk DataOne of my commitments this year is to try some new ways of interacting with the data community.  I’d like to try to have some recurring office hours where people just like you YOU can drop into a Go To Meeting to ask me questions about data, data modeling, database design …or my treadmill desk, a recent conference, industry standard data models, etc.  Or you could just say “Hi”.  I’ll also have the ability to get help from you, too.

What are Office Hours?

I’m drawing from an academic practice of educators publishing set times when students could stop by to get help from an instructor on a more direct basis than in a classroom.  However, my intention isn’t for this to be an Instructor/Student dynamic, but more of a professional information sharing opportunity to talk shop outside the bounds of our regular projects.

I see this as the types of conversations that happen during breaks at user group / DAMA meetings or at the end of a webinar.  Not all work, but primarily about topics we share an interest in.  I also see this as a type of tertulia, which is a conversation by a group of people with a share interest.

Rob Drysdale may join us as his schedule fits, too.

This is open to anyone and everyone who would like to be part of a virtual meeting of data professionals where there is no set agenda.

Meeting Information (GoTo Meeting)

1. Please join my meeting.

2. Use your microphone and speakers (VoIP) – a headset is recommended. Or, call in using your telephone.

Dial +1 (773) 945-1017

Access Code: 483-280-225

Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting

Meeting ID: 483-280-225

Update: Office Hours meeting info has changed.  Please see: Office Hours are Back for new information.

Please enter your real name or Twitter ID when joining the meeting. It helps us connect better, which is why we are having these meetings.

What it Is not

The intention isn’t for us to provide 45 minutes of free consulting to solve a detailed data modeling problem for one person.  That’s what we do for a living. It also isn’t quite the bar discussion after a user group meeting where all topics are available.  However, I might be on a beverage break at the same time and so could you.  So think about the same sort of topics, approaches, and conventions you’d normally follow in the break room at work or over breakfast at a your local DAMA meeting.

This isn’t a user group meeting with a presentation or agenda.  Perhaps it is an “unmeeting” of sort.  You don’t have to join at the starting time, nor do you have stay all the way through.   If you want to bring your Barbie, GI Joe, or Wayne Gretzky action figure, please do so.

One final note

We are using a version of Go To Meeting that allows for 15 participants at a time.  That means that our group will be small at any point in time. I think that matches what my intent is.  It also means that we can share screens/applications and that you can use a computer headset or dial in to to talk.


As I said, this is a trial.  I’m thinking this will be a couple of times a month, probably on Thursday afternoons ET.  But I’ll be looking for feedback to see if this is the right timeslot and if we are using the right tools to do this.  I’ll also be looking for input into the right structure.

Update: We’ve had a few of these now and I can definitely say that they are here to stay.  Most Thursdays at 4PM Eastern, using the meeting information above.

If you’d like a meeting invite for you calendar, e-mail me Karen @ (remove those spaces).  You can also leave a comment here with a valid e-mail address so that I can send you the meeting invite.

So lets give this a try.  I’d love to hear your questions, comments, thoughts on DATA.  We talk about issues, challenges, funny stories, and whatever is going on in the news about data.

You Want To Do What? Lessons Learned From A Desire To Produce More Beer

Jan 20, 2011   //   by Rob Drysdale   //   Blog, Fun, Professional Development  //  No Comments

6 Beer Fermentation Tanks on TrucksA few nights ago I went out to have a look at a logistical marvel.  There were 6 very large beer fermentation tanks working their way to a Molson brewery location on the streets in and around Toronto.  First, you might not think that this was any big deal except that each tank holds about 1 million bottles of beer and couldn’t be taken through any normal routes.  Second, you might ask why I would go out at midnight on a really cold night to see this, but the engineer in me had to see it up close to see just how big these things were and how complicated this was.  The planned move and the progress were profiled through many news outlets and it was an interesting story.

What struck me about all of this when I was watching was just how complicated and involved this was from a project planning and logistics perspective.  There were also key lessons in project management tat can be gleaned from this:

NOTHING Impossible Ever Is

Truck and Tank Turning When someone comes to you and says “we want to do this….can it be done?”  The answer should never be a simple no.  There may be reasons why it can’t be done, but everything can be done given enough time, effort and money.  The key is to figure out how badly they want it done and if they are willing to pay for it.  The impossible part of it might be that the cost is too much for what it is, but you won’t necessarily be the judge of that.  As Jerry Weinberg says in The Secrets of Consulting, you should always frame it as “I can do that, but this is what it is going to cost”.

With the beer tanks, Molson’s knew they wanted to increase their production and they needed these tanks.  The trick was to figure out the manufacturing, logistics and installation.  Given the size of the tanks, building them somewhere else and shipping them to the site seemed impossible.  But building them on site would have been cost prohibitive so they looked at other options and figured out that they could have the tanks manufactured in Germany and shipped to Toronto.

Find The Right Expertise

Tanks Going Under and Over Two Sets of Wires While Turning From One Street To AnotherYou might think that you are the experts and only your company or department can do the project you’re thinking about, but trust me when I say that’s not true.  Unless you are on the bleeding edge of some new technology, everything has been done before by someone.  Find them and either hire them or glean the information you need from them.

In the case of the beer tanks, Molson Breweries hired Challenger Motor Freight to figure out how to get the tanks from Point A to Point B.  Challenger has experience with moving very large freight and could provide the logistics necessary to make it happen.

Think Outside The Box

As I said in the first point above, nothing is impossible.  But in order to see the solution sometimes you have to think about the problem differently.  You can’t just have a narrow focus and think in terms of how it’s always been done or you’ll never see the answer.  The other point here is that if you are just looking at a problem from you’re own little world, or department, you might miss the bigger solution and end up with something that is sub-optimal.

Preparing and Moving Wires For Tanks To Go Under - Note long pole for measuring height before tank goes underTo ship the beer tanks and get them to the brewery they wouldn’t fit on any planes so they had to come on a boat.  Then there were all the logistical issues of getting them to the brewery.  If you looked at this simply from bringing them to the port in Toronto you would think it’s impossible given the infrastructure and bridges and everything in the way.  Instead, the tanks were shipped to Hamilton which is farther from the brewery, but it made it possible for the land portion of the shipping.  From Hamilton it became a huge puzzle of taking the right combination of streets to avoid all underpasses and bridges where the tanks wouldn’t fit and dealing with the utilities and infrastructure that was in the way.  For example, on the last night of the move, the convoy was on the same street that the brewery was on, but they had to turn off that street and take a number of others just to avoid an underpass before getting back on line to the brewery.

Stuff Happens

You might have the best plan in the world, but sometimes stuff happens.  You have to be ready to adjust your plans and have contingencies in place in case it doesn’t work according to the plan.
The key to project management is being able to see the holes and risks in your plan and be prepared to take action or adjust when it does go off the rails.  The best project managers aren’t the ones that never have any problems with their plans, but the ones that adapt and adjust quickly and cohesively when things do happen.

The shipping and installation of the beer tanks was behind schedule.  Even before they left Hamilton they were behind.  The tanks got to Hamilton in November, but with delays and the holiday season they didn’t leave for Toronto until January 7th.  The move itself from Hamilton to Toronto was supposed to take 4 nights.  In reality it took 10.  The weather played a factor as well as the time involved in moving the electricity, cable and telephone lines.  The convoy had to be prepared to stop at different locations and adjust their plans as they went.  On the night I watched, there were three sets of wires the tanks had to go over/under in a very short stretch and these all had to be moved out of the way.  In some cases the wires were taken down and laid along the ground and in others they were lifted up out of the way.

The Entire Team Has To Work Together

On any project it isn’t just one person that has to do all the work on the problem, there is a team of people.  The team can include internal people, contractors, consultants, suppliers, etc.  Even in your own companies there may be other departments and people that you must rely on to complete your projects.  The point here is that everyone must have the goal in sight and be working together to get there.

Everyone Working Together As Tanks Move Under One Set of Wires and Wait For Next Set To Be ClearedFor the beer convoy there were trucks, drivers, spotters, supervisors, utility workers, police, etc. all working in concert to get the freight delivered.  There were a number of different companies and organizations represented, but everyone knew the goal and what they were contributing to the project.  While I watched, I could see the coordination in action and the way everyone was working together to get the trucks through their next obstacle.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of things happening in the world around us that we can look at and study to learn about how it applies to our work and what we do.  This project was a lot more complicated than most, but when it is broken down it really is just a bunch of steps put together to get a tank another 50 meters down the road.  If you do enough of those 50 meter long tasks eventually you get the full 108 kilometers covered.  You might be a few days late, but you’ll get there…

Why Don’t My Blog Comments Have My Picture/Avatar?

Jan 11, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Social Networking  //  9 Comments


If you comment on blogs, you might have noticed that your comment is missing a picture or avatar next to your comment, but other comments have them.  You might see a blank next to some and a “placeholder” picture next to others, as shown in the snippet from our blog. 

An avatar is a usually a cartoon/drawing/character that isn’t realistic but embodies who you are…or who you think you are.  It can also be a photograph that clearly shows your face or a portion of your face.  You often see these user images on forums, blogs and social networks.

I’d bet that if your avatar isn’t showing up on comments, you are wondering why your comments look so…anonymous…or plain.  The reason that Rob and my avatars are there is because we are commenting through our blogging accounts, but the reason that other commenters’ pictures are there is because they registered with a third party service called Gravatar.  Gravatar stands for Globally Recognized Avatar. You can create an account there, upload a picture or avatar and provide your e-mail address.  Then when you leave comments on blogs that have special plugins or services to use Gravatar, your picture will show up next to your comments.  It works when you provide the same e-mail address on the blog comment that you did when you registered for Gravatar.  In other words, your e-mail address is the key used between the blog and the service to find your picture. 

The most common blogging and forum platforms will automatically show your Gravatar when you provide the right e-mail address (which usually is not shown).

But why would you want your picture to show up on someone’s blog comments?   I find that when people use a common picture or avatar across all the blogs, social networks, and web forums they build a better relationship with those communities.  I know I find comments more “real” when I recognize the commenter.  You could think of your avatar as part of your professional brand.

There may be situations where you don’t want your picture to show up in a comment.  In that case, you could consider giving a different e-mail address when you leave your comment.  It might also help if you associated your professional picture with your professional e-mail address and your personal one with your personal e-mail address.

Gravatar has also introduced expanded profiles and “hovercards” that can display even more information about you if you’d like to share more. That’s an opt-in expansion of the regular avatar feature.  It’s up to you as to how much information you want to share.

I do recommend that you go set up a Gravatar account.  I believe your having a global graphic identifier (okay, almost unique identifier) will help you build relationships via social networks and blogs.

A Globally Recognized Avatar

Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Avatars help identify your posts on blogs and web forums, so why not on any site?

You’ve Made A Plan So Now What?

Jan 10, 2011   //   by Rob Drysdale   //   Blog, Professional Development  //  2 Comments

Well, here we are at the beginning of 2011 and we’re all back at work and tackling the backlog and emergencies that have arisen since we’ve been away for the holidays.  So what’s changed from 2010 to 2011?  The answer for many of us is often “not much”.

In a previous post I talked about needing a plan so we could see the big picture of where we wanted to go so we could establish a direction and relate what we are doing to the goals that we want to achieve.  Many times this is difficult for us and we have trouble working on the tasks that relate to our goals because other things get in the way and take priority.  It may also be that we have part of a picture of where we want to be in 5 or 10 years, but aren’t sure how to get there.

Do You Need A Mentor?

If you’re struggling with how to move forward on your plan, you should think about a mentor.  I follow Lynn Dessert (blog | Twitter) and just before Christmas she did a blog post Finding the right mentor on her site Elephants At Work.  It struck me that many people probably don’t have a mentor or understand why they would want one.

A mentor is someone who you can turn to and talk about where you want to be and discuss some of the perceived barriers or roadblocks and get advice on how to move forward with your plan.  Generally a mentor is someone who has experience in the area that you are looking for help in and they can guide you and help you because they’ve been through it before.  Think of a mentor as similar to a therapist, but instead of asking “how did that make you feel” they can give you practical advice about getting to the next step in your plan.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had a couple of people that have helped me as mentors.  While I wasn’t actively seeking someone as a mentor and I never called them a mentor, they really were.  They helped me to see what I was doing and how it contributed and how to move forward.  Sometimes it’s an ear to listen, sometimes it’s asking the right questions, and sometimes it’s just a bit of practical advice on what to do and where to go.  Two years ago I finished working in a role that I had for 5 years and looking back I regret that I didn’t make more use of a mentor as it would have helped me achieve more in what I was doing at the time.

Can You Mentor Others?

If you aren’t really in need of a mentor right now, but feel like you have significant experience, how about being a mentor to others?  You may think that you don’t have all the answers or know everything, but the truth is you don’t have to.  If you can even help people avoid some of the pitfalls you experienced it’s worth it.  But both the mentor and the mentee need to understand what area you are helping with as you can’t be an expert or experienced in everything.

In the last little while I’ve been helping mentor a couple of people on their careers and things they need to work on.  I may not have all the answers for my own life, but I can still help others and it gives me a chance to “pay forward” the mentoring that others gave to me.

Final Thoughts

So what do you think?  Do you need a mentor or can you mentor someone?  We all need help at some point.  We just need to learn how to ask and find the right person to help us.  Hopefully with a little help you can achieve your plan or even redefine it and change it if it needs it.


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