On coffee, data and stewardship


I consume so much coffee on a daily basis that I consider it to be one of my food groups. This might not be as unhealthy as it sounds since coffee beans are actually the seeds of coffee cherries, which means coffee is essentially fruit juice – and drinking a lot of fruit juice sounds healthy to me.

What does my favorite food group have to do with data? Quite a lot, actually.

Data is the new coffee

For starters, the world’s first webcam was used in 1991 to watch a coffee pot. This real-time data stream allowed computer science researchers at the University of Cambridge to monitor coffee pot completeness without leaving their desks. Nowadays, it is often said that data is the new oil. Well, since coffee is the world’s second largest commodity after oil, it would be an equally robust metaphor to say data is the new coffee.

Although we don’t often think about it, a lot of time, effort and especially people are involved in the processes that coffee undergoes before it’s poured into our cups. Coffee plants can take up to five years to mature before their fruit can be harvested, at which time it’s picked, washed, dried, milled, packaged, shipped, and, as it gets closer to the consumer, the coffee supply chain ends with roasting and brewing.

Compare that to the data supply chain and the time, effort, and, again, especially people involved in the processes that data undergoes before it is, for example, poured into our reports. These processes include harvesting raw data, architecting its data store, verifying its data quality, analyzing its business relevance, and, as it gets closer to the consumer, the data supply chain ends with filtering and visualizing.

Just as coffee drinkers have different tastes, data consumers often have different requirements for the same data representing differences in data usage and data quality expectations. To return to the coffee metaphor, the caffeine content of coffee varies by roasting level, which also affects the coffee’s flavor. If you want more caffeine, but less flavor, choose a light roast. If you want more flavor, but less caffeine, choose a dark roast.

Furthermore, despite what most people think, Espresso is not a type of coffee bean, but is instead a process of preparing coffee by shooting pressurized hot water through finely ground coffee. An Americano is just a watered down Espresso. A Latte and a Cappuccino add foam and milk to the mix – the former more milk, the latter more foam. A Mocha adds chocolate syrup, while a Breve substitutes half-and-half for milk. These differences are similar to how different business processes prepare data differently for different business purposes.

Brew a Stewie for your best data steward

Throughout this post I emphasized the importance of the people involved throughout the supply chain of both coffee and data. Perhaps the most unheralded people in data’s chain gang are its data stewards, which is why it’s so important for your organization to nurture a data steward culture.

Nurture all your data stewards with all the coffee they need, and brew a Stewie for your best steward by nominating a data steward whom you believe should be recognized as the 2013 Data Steward of the Year.

The winner will be announced on November 19, which is International Data Stewards Day.


About Author

Jim Harris

Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality (OCDQ)

Jim Harris is a recognized data quality thought leader with 25 years of enterprise data management industry experience. Jim is an independent consultant, speaker, and freelance writer. Jim is the Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality, an independent blog offering a vendor-neutral perspective on data quality and its related disciplines, including data governance, master data management, and business intelligence.

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