Core principles

Sesam has a set of fundamental principles to ensure that the capture, exploitation, and management of master data in data platform solutions will be as fast and efficient as possible. Together, these principles ensure continuously updated master data, with high data quality, that can be effectively managed over time.

Master data is any structured data that changes, not just the most central data

The definition of master data is “Data that provides context to transactional data”, but in a data platform architecture, the definition of transactional data is somewhat unclear. We therefore redefine this to be “Data that provides context to time series data”. With time series, we mean data that is captured at a given time and that never changes, such as sensor data and log data. It gives us the following definition of master data in a data platform:

Structured data that changes over time and that is needed for use outside the system where it was created.

This means that master data is not limited to customer, product, asset, and employee data, but contains both reference data and all possible forms of structured data stored in a system, where the data also is required to be made available outside of that system. Master data is all data in a data platform that is neither unstructured nor in time series. Examples of master data slightly outside the usual definition are: order and invoice information, work orders, timesheet, document metadata, as well as any type of category.

Parallel and continuously function-adapted data models, not static and canonical

The biggest challenge for data quality is that each system in a composite architecture has different representations of the same object. The challenge is amplified in a data-driven architecture, where the data itself should be meaningful and not wrapped in functional shells as in a traditional SOA architecture.

The “simple” solution is to agree on one a single data model for each object type, a so-called canonical model, that ideally represents a standardized superset everything you will ever need, from all systems. While this may be a requirement in a message-based integration architecture, and is truly valuable in an industry-wide data interoperability scenario, in a data platform however, the canonical model becomes a constant burden demanding continual enhancement and expansion over time. The result becomes a datamodel that fits none of the source systems, and always lags behind the continously evolving needs of the platform.

Many businesses have wasted enormous resources on a utopia of a stable canonical model, only to realize that it is not possible. An ideal model does not exist, and one must realize that any given data model will always be a perspective of the object one wants to describe, not an objective and lasting truth.

In Sesam, we solve this fundamental problem in the diametrically opposite way: We collect all the different representations of an object, without changing the data model for any of the different representations. Instead of a false idea of “Single source of Truth,” Sesam will gather and connect all perspectives, i.e. data models, which exists about an object in a composite dynamic representation. Any single master data object becomes available, in all its different perspectives, as a single resource. This makes it easy to continuously develop the platform-wide, domain-wide, or functionality-wide data models needed in the data platform. The composite object representation linking all the different representations across systems is stored as a single object in global datasets.

The representation is stored in a standard JSON based format, and continuously updated with data from all source systems. The complete object is stored in one global dataset only, and in a single data format. However, the data models describing the object can be continuously enhanced, based on the development of the source systems, and driven by the functional needs at any time.

Adapt your data platform to the business systems, not the other way around

A data platform exists to collect data from different systems and share this data in a consistent manner, to make it easier to retrieve the value that lies in the data. This is an ongoing process that must facilitate continually expanding value outtake, and quick delivery of the right data with the right quality for new purposes.

The master data will need to be compiled from a set of business systems that are constantly changing, both in the case of new versions of a system, and in the case or replacing them with new systems. To effectively manage a data platform, and make it fast and easy to use best-of-breed business systems out-of-the-box, it is essential that the business systems and data platform are as loosely coupled as possible.

Sesam does not require any modifications in the business systems, but instead each system talk in their own language, meaning they can collect and share data in the form that the system supports, through mechanisms for which the systems were built. Whether the business system communicates via REST API, SOAP, XML, CSV, SQL or any other communication form or format is irrelevant. If there is structured data, Sesam will be able to talk to every system in their own language.

Internally in Sesam all data is transformed into a extended JSON based data format, but retains its original data model. This is essential to not degrade the quality of the data. Any conversion from one data model to another will mean a reduction in data quality.

In Sesam, the original data model will be retained in addition to the origin of the data by using namespaces, and thus the context in which they were created is retained as part of the data format. It ensures that data is not lost in the transmission from business system to data platform.

Synchronize the data, don’t let it flow only in one direction

Any system that is the source of master data needs to continuously keep their data up to date. These data updates do not have to come through the system’s own UI, but should be able to originate from anywhere in the data platform architecture. The aim of a data platform is to make data available to ensure that a wide set of value-added services, such as automation, machine learning, mobile applications, web etc. can be deployed.

All services built on data will be able to create new valuable data that is sent back and will further enrich the data platform. This data should not only remain inside the data platform, but continuously update the subject systems in question.

Sesam synchronizes data from its global dataset back into the business system, so that in practice one achieves a functional multi-master replication across both business systems and the entire data platform solution. In all systems where semantically equal properties about the same object exist, the data will be coordinated to achieve consistency on all levels.

Build autonomous services, avoid dependencies, and tight coupling

Just as a common data model can’t meet all needs, one data access point isn’t effective to cover a wide range of data-driven services. The most stable architecture is to allow each service to have an optimized data source with a subset of data that is tailored to the service’s needs. This forms the core of a loosely connected architecture, and means that each service can choose to use the data store and the data model that is most efficient, while ensuring that the services do not stop working at the same time due to a common dependency.

Sesam is optimized for synchronizing master data between the master data hub and each service’s data store in the same way as against business systems. Regardless of the optimal store for a service, whether it’s SQL-based, search-index-based, NoSQL-based, graph-based, or using special tools such as Firebase, Qlik, Tableau, etc.

Stream changes to master data, don’t use slow and resource intensive ETL

Traditional data platform architecture is often based on ETL to retrieve master data as opposed to time series data, which in most cases is streamed into the platform. A reason for this is that the amount of master data is usually limited, and that the source systems often cannot deliver a stream of changes.

The biggest problem in this approach is that master data is always composed from multiple systems, so all data from all systems must be reloaded each time data is updated. This causes a low refresh rate, and undesired dependencies between source systems to make ETL jobs able to complete. This causes all downstream systems that need master data to also be forced to batch process their data using ETL.

Sesam is an at-design-time dataflow tool optimized to always just collect changes and stream them into the global datasets, and from there out to all systems that need the change. Regardless of whether a source supports change tracking, Sesam will immediately convert any data to a stream of the real changes.

Sesam will automatically interpret the dataflow configuration so that it knows every single object affected by any change. Even the construction of complex composite data objects across a multitude of source systems with advanced dependencies, is automaticaly change tracked by the Sesam engine. This non trivial requirement is a prerequisite for being able to stream compound objects without having to ETL the entire dataset each time updated data is needed.

Standardize master data management, don’t hide it in code

The complexity of a data platform is increasing for every system and data type you add to it, and the chance of losing control becomes eminent over time. It’s imperative to standardize the way master data is managed and gain a transparent unified methodology throughout the platform, which is flexible and can be maintained over time.

Coding is extremly effective in an isolated environment, and it gives every developer free rein to solve their individual tasks to their own liking. The problem is effective management over time in a complex environment. Every code snippet becomes a black box, and while this may be the best way to solve some functional needs, it is destructive when it comes to managing master data.

A core challenge in a heterogeneous environment, as data platforms are, is the lack of transparency. Utilization of composite data from a wide range of source systems is the core principle to gain value from a data platform, and if the process for generation of that data is not transparent, you can never trust its quality.

In Sesam every part of the dataflow, storage and management is highly standardized and defined declaratively. There is no code, only structured configuration, stored as data, which instructs the platform how to collect data, how to connect and enrich them, and how to share them. This makes the master data management completely transparent, and even the most complicated dataflow self-documented. All data can be traced back to its origin, inspected at any point in a flow, and the data quality completely trustworthy.