[As community content, this post reflects the views and opinions of the particular author and does not necessarily reflect the official stance of Neo4j.]Many higher education institutions, like the University of Washington (UW), are implementing large, complex, Software-as-a-Service solutions for HR, payroll and other administrative systems. While these enterprise systems provide useful new tools and resources, organizations face a significant challenge in helping users understand what’s changing and how to prepare for that change. The UW is in the process of replacing its 30+ year-old HR and payroll system with a Software-as-a-Service human capital management tool. This multi-year effort is the largest administrative transformation in UW’s history, touching every person and department at the University. Knowledge Navigator (KN) was created as a metadata repository and to facilitate system migration. KN represents concepts and data relationships both visually and textually, highlighting linkages between the old and new systems in a web-based, interactive platform as seen below.
Picking the Right SolutionWhen effectively governed, a metadata repository establishes a common understanding and expectations across the University. It provides a view into the flow of data, the ability to perform impact analysis, a common business vocabulary and accountability for its terms and definitions. The comprehensive management of metadata is vital to enabling an organization to oversee changes while delivering trusted, secure data in a complex data integration environment. Solid metadata management tools play a central role in holistic system management, including system migration. Multiple metadata solutions have been evaluated, from custom SharePoint repositories to custom relational database (RDBMS) solutions to commercial vendor tools. None worked well, nor offered the amount of customization required, and they did not provide the ability to “stitch” together various data sources into a complete before-and-after picture. In 2014, at a national information management conference, the University of Notre Dame presented on graph databases. Through a subsequent collaboration with them, the UW team was inspired to move to Neo4j as the database of choice.
Keep It SimpleMany metadata and data governance efforts fail because they attempted to accomplish too much at once. We focused on a specific problem we wanted to solve – how to most easily demonstrate change from the “old-to-new” perspective – that could return tangible value, but was not boiling the ocean from the standpoint of data-volume, organizational or architectural complexity. The data model for Knowledge Navigator is relatively simple, as seen in the partial data model below for databases and business intelligence (BI) reports:
RelevanceKnowledge Navigator stands out among metadata repositories because of its unique ability to provide communication about changes to the University’s data end-users. Built into KN is help for understanding the impact of migrating from a mainframe system to a cloud-based system, and how to prepare for the changes. Data lineage maps illustrate the parallels between the old and new systems. Interactive diagrams invite users to select objects and artifacts to understand the relationships between them. KN explains the new concepts and definitions users should know to work effectively within the new system. Users can view high-level conceptual models as well as technical metadata about tables and columns. For example, users can see that the legacy table called
Person is related to
Person in the new system, or that 14 columns from legacy
Person relate to columns in the new
Person, and that there is a brand-new, yet related table, called