Creating a Dataflow in Sesam

An ideal dataflow in Sesam consists of the following conceptual steps: Collect, Enrich, Connect, Transform and Share. These steps are explained below. Following these principles ensures data is modelled in a way that allows Sesam to operate optimally, so it’s important to get acquainted with them and the reasoning behind them.

Collect

Collecting data is primarily concerned with raw data and how Sesam operates when pulling data from a source.

Push or pull data?

Sesam prefers to be the active party when scheduling the moving of data as it enters or exits Sesam. Therefore, Sesam prefers to pull data as this increases control and ensures Sesam can administer when data enters Sesam.

With regards to pushing of data, the challenge is that Sesam receives the data but at the same time has no option to request the data again, should the need arise.

Raw data

Data is fed into Sesam through an inbound pipe. Firstly, you will do an analysis of the data. Then add a raw pipe to make sure Sesam has a copy of the original data. From the result of the analysis, you will then add properties, in the Enrich step, that will enhance the data in terms of modelling, reusability and connectivity.

Advantages

Importing raw data can be interesting for multiple reasons. When an external system can only push data for example, having a record of the data received allows us to consult previously ingested data or re-run a dataflow without having to request a new data delivery, which can sometimes be impossible. Or if an external system is to be decommissioned, historical data can be preserved within Sesam and made available should the replacing system need it. There are also external systems that prune data which might be necessary for other external systems with a broader lifecycle scope. For example, an ERP system will keep data from procuration to decommission, while the lifespan of data will be shorter in a system focusing on operations.

A two step approach

To fullfil both goals of raw data retention and the ability to leverage the semantic capabilities of Sesam, an intermediary dataset becomes necessary. A “raw” pipe will be inserted before the input pipe and act as a double-door entrance. Its duties are to interface with the external system and create the verbatim raw dataset. From the input pipe’s point of view, elaborated in the Enrich step, the raw dataset is the data source as if it was from the external system itself.

Test data

Test data is generated to be able to test that the data behaves as expected.

It is a best practice to build a foundation of test data in the inbound pipe and then build on this as the need for testing arises. This is a smoother option than to try to generate perfect test data at the very beginning. This set of data can consist of ten or so objects, anonymized if required. Make sure it contains the fields required for testing, i.e. if you are testing merging, you need the fields you are merging on (e.g., merging person from HR and ERP system, you need social security number in both datasets).

To read more about test data and how it is set up in Sesam, please click here

Monitoring

Sesam has a built-in monitoring function to help to ensure data flows as expected and there are no bottlenecks or any stops. A best practice in Sesam is to switch on monitoring in the inbound and the outbound pipes as it will make clear if data is not flowing as expected.

Enrich

The enrichment step is concerned with providing semantics in three main areas:

  1. adding rdf:type to define the entity’s business type,

  2. adding namespaces to preserve property lineage and avoid property name conflicts across sources,

  3. adding namespaced identifiers to define how the business entity type relates to other business entity types from the same source.

Other types of semantics can be utilized if needed.

Tip

If raw data entities also consist of metadata used for classification, it is advisable to separate out this metadata and put in global-classification.

Semantic enrichment with rdf:type

To classify business entities it is a best practice to add a property rdf:type. The rdf:type should be added as a namespaced identifier to enable potential URI expansion. Use the source from which the business entity orginated as namespace and the business entity type as identifier.

For example, employees from SAP could be given rdf:type “~:sap:Employee”.

rdf:type is often used as filter criteria in various contexts, especially in the Transform step and when joining data using hops.

Semantic enrichment with namespaces

Namespace support is a central feature of Sesam. Adding namespaces to entity properties ensures property lineage, and thus enables tracing of properties back to their origin. Using namespaces also ensures that properties with identical names from different sources do not conflict with each other.

As an example, imagine two business entities from two different sources both having a property first-name. By adding namespaces, these two entities could safely be merged by preserving their properties in separate namespaces: <source a>:first-name and <source b>:first-name.

See Namespaces for more details.

Semantic enrichment with namespaced identifiers

Namespaced identifiers (NIs) in Sesam are like foreign keys in relational databases. Sesam, being schemaless, does not enforce any relations between datasets, but NIs are a handy way of defining these relations semantically.

NIs are usually derived from source properties that are either explicitly defined as, or inferred to be, foreign keys. Adding NIs by using make-ni on relevant source properties will both ensure that the original source properties are preserved and that their NI counterparts are added as separate properties.

On some occasions NIs must be added by other means, typically by using the add and ni functions.

Regardless, make sure the NIs reference actual entity identifiers (primary key equivalents) in the related datasets.

Important

NIs should only reference business entities from the same source, the same way foreign keys in relational databases references primary keys in tables within the same database. At the Enrich step we do not want to make assumptions about how (if at all) data from one particular source relates to data from other sources. That is done in the Connect step.

NIs are prime candidates for hops equalities since they reference entity identifiers in related datasets.

See Namespace and namespaced identifiers for more details.

Connect

The raw data, having now been enriched, are ready to be connected to other data from other sources. This can be done in various ways and the next few chapters will describe this in detail.

Global pipes / datasets

When connecting data in Sesam, it is important to understand global datasets as these are collections of data that pertain to the same concept from different sources.

The main purpose of a global dataset is to be the single authorative location to get fresh data about a specific concept. Generally when we want to start building globals, we start at a high level and work our way into the details. For example, if we work for a business which sells stationary, it will be natural to create globals based on various things we sell: global-paper, global-pens, global-postit, global-equipment etc. This is exactly how we would stock the shelves in a stationary shop. If, however we are a pen specialist, our perspective would be completely different and we would have a global-pencil, global-marker, global-ballpoint global-ink etc. Here we have so many kinds of pens that it does not make sense to have a shelf for printing paper or notebooks, but we would sort the pens after type of pen in the very same way we sort them into various global datasets.

Neither of these two examples are wrong but make sense for each example as their data requirements and use of data are very different, even though a lot of their data is the same. So, when wanting to sort data in globals in order to retrieve it in the Transform step, it is important to ensure logical grouping.

A general rule is that every dataset that is written to Sesam from an external data source should be put into its appropriate global, however small it is.

When defining global datasets, there are a few guidelines for modelling:

  • A global dataset should be defined by what the data it contains is.

  • Try to keep the number of global datasets low.

  • Every dataset written to Sesam through an inbound pipe should be put into a global dataset, do not put a dataset into multiple global datasets.

  • If unsure which global a dataset should belong to, choosing one of the candidates is usually good enough, try avoiding creating new global datasets just for one dataset.

  • There is no definite right or wrong way in how you organize your global datasets.

  • Avoid system specific global datasets.

When a global dataset has been defined, there are some questions to be considered in terms of how a global dataset should work:

  • Should data in a global dataset be merged to a single entity or not?

  • Is the data of such a format and quality that a golden record can be defined?

  • Would enhancing the data in a global dataset with data from another dataset improve the data for later use?

Classification of data

How do we decide which data pertains to the same concept? For example a person can potentially end up in global-customer, global-employee or global-person, which one is correct?

In Sesam we recommend a one dimensional structure, i.e. data can only belong to one global. Let us use an example; a company has lots of data about persons: customers, clients, prospects, employees and applicants. It is tempting to be able to separate these to generate a global for each. The problem with this is a person with a unique ID can end up in two or more globals (e.g., global-customer and global-person). Then it is the role of the person deciding and not the concept, which is data about persons.

So how can we differentiate between all the various types of persons? In Sesam we add a category. This is multidimensional, which means you can add several categories to each data type. For a person, this could be “Customer” then we could further add subcategories of customers like “VIP customer”, “Private customer” etc. So top level of classification is one dimensional and lower categories and subcategories are multidimensional as an object can have several categories.

These principles coincide with Carl Linnaeus principles of taxonomy; it is one dimensions that is each species can only belong to one category. He had 7 classifications:

Kingdom Phylum Classes Orders Family Genera Species

When classifying in Sesam, it is advisable to start high up in the hierarchy but not at top as that proves to be too general, but for most data modelling, starting at Phylum or Classes is a good starting point. To further classify deeper down in the hierarchy, we add categories and subcategories.

To meet this requirement for classifying data, as stated previously, we recommend generating a global-classification dataset. This contains various metadata that can be picked up and enriched via hops to the data that needs categorization.

Merge data in a global dataset or not

To emphasize: One of the main purposes of a global dataset is to present a single authoritative truth about a concept or data. Therefore, it is important to ask yourself whether data from different systems should be merged in a global or not.

It is logical to merge data from various systems in one global dataset if they define the same kind of object or type. For example, if some of the various sources contain person data, it would be logical to create a global dataset for person data and then merge each entity that refers to the same person. This is done so that when you ask for information about a specific entity, you also get information about that entity from the other systems. In terms of reusability this is a highly versatile way of getting all the data you need.

Warning

  • However, merging data comes with a cost. In certain cases, changing the rules of how the data are merged requires the pipe to be reset and run again. For large datasets this might mean that it will take time before the downstream pipes will get updates.

In some cases, merging the data isn’t logical. For instance, data like countries, counties, cities and streets might be put into a global location dataset, but it is not logical to merge these data. For example, if we think of Norway (a country) and Oslo (a city), they both could fit into a global location dataset, both being locations, but we can agree that Norway and Oslo are not the same thing.

Also note that if a global dataset contains merged data, it does not necessarily mean that every other dataset in the global must be merged. Some data might be telling something about an entity but it’s not necessarily the same thing.

Defining global properties

For background on global properties, please read here.

There are 3 main reasons to introduce global properties:

  • These are established standards you want to use.

  • One will establish standard characteristics that make it easier for consumers of data to know which properties to use.

  • Properties that are conceptually about the same thing, albeit they originate from more than one system, logic must be defined to ensure the desired system is authoritative

Often when you merge datasets together in a global dataset, you will find that some of the merged datasets contain properties that are the same. In some cases, it is valuable to add one global property to the global dataset that will be the most reliable with regards to these properties.

For instance, let us say we have a person global dataset that merges three datasets from three different systems. All of these datasets contain a property for zipcode, but we know that one of the systems isn’t adequately updated. By adding a global zipcode property, determining which of the systems are the most reliable and using the zipcode from that source as the value, we provide a way for the downstream pipes to get the most reliable information.

Instead of having to define global properties in advance, Sesam is built so that these can be continuously defined and changed over time and as needed. Some recommendations for when to establish global properties:

  • In advance, if standardised schema are to be used.

  • On demand, when a consumer needs properties that may originate from more than one system.

If you need to use a hops function to another global dataset when creating global properties, it is recommended to do this through feedback loops.

Feedback loops

A feedback loop is a downstream pipe from a global, that creates a dataset that is merged back in to the same global. This mechanism is needed to build properies that need to be created recursively. It is also the recommended way to add properties that is dependent on hops to other datasets.

Warning

  • Be aware that a feedback pipe will effectively block the completeness feature if it is not excluded from the completeness chain.

Transform

Transforming data is concerned with late schema binding and as such data formats become relevant.

Late schema binding

As everything in Sesam is JSON, Sesam is schemaless. Therefore, Sesam supports any data schema and transforms the data from the global datasets into the target schema before offering it to the target system. In a Sesam dataflow, this is done in preparation pipes.

Sesam does not offer automatic schema validation nor business rules validation. Such validation has to be developed outside of Sesam.

Data format

Sesam has native connectors to transform its internal JSON format into the most common data formats, like XML, JSON, SQL, CSV, Excel etc. Any format not supported can be delivered using the push mechanism through a microservice. Sesam has a library of microservices, but in some cases a new microservice has to be developed if Sesam needs to connect to an unfamiliar or special system. This can be necessary because of special data format or security requirements of the targets.

Share

The main benefit of Sesam is its ability to share data by delivering it in the form that each target system asks for. Instead of changing the systems to fit the data, Sesam speaks the target’s language.

The core principle of data management with Sesam is to bring data to any target systems in need. The targets will use their optimized data storage to store the new data.

Transport

Sesam supports both push and publish mechanisms. Push has the advantage of making it possible for Data Managers to control the flow and know the state of the target system. Publish has an advantage that gives the target system control over their dataflow, but supports a limited array of data formats, such as JSON, CSV, XML, RDF, SD-SHARE and only supports HTTPS. Sesam does not support ad hoc querying on published data. Sesam has a limited support for pre-defined query properties or data subsets.

Identifiers

When sending data to a target system, the main challenge is using the right identifiers for the object you update, and also the right identifiers for any references from that object to other objects in the same target system. The correct ID for the necessary objects is available in the global datasets, and by hopping to them in the outgoing flow, the correct identifiers can be populated.

Completeness

To ensure that any composed object is complete before sending it to a target system, the completeness feature(if set) will delay the transfer of incomplete objects to targets. If the completeness feature is not set, incomplete objects will be sent to targets.

Generated identifiers

In API-based systems the result of the insert or update call should feed back into the target input flow, to handle IDs and errors.