The Country List

It’s the second day of the MDM Summit Europe 2013 in London today.

The last session I attended today was an expert panel on Reference Data Management (RDM).

Country ListI guess the list of countries on this planet is the prime example of what is reference data and today’s session provided no exception from that.

Even though a list of countries is fairly small and there shouldn’t be everyday changes to the list, maintaining a country list isn’t as simple as you should think.

First of all official sources for a country list aren’t in agreement. The range of countries given an ISO code isn’t the same as the range of countries where for example the Universal Postal Union (UPU) says you can make a delivery.

Another example I have had some challenges with is that for example the D&B WorldBase (a large word-wide business directory) has four country codes for what is generally regarded as the United Kingdom, as the D&B country reference data probably is defined by a soccer fan recognizing the distinct national soccer teams from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The expert panel moderator, Aaron Zornes, went as far as suggesting that a graph database maybe the best technology for reflecting the complexity in reference data. Oh yes, and in master data too you should think then, though I doubt that the relational database and hierarchy management will be out of fashion for a while.

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6 thoughts on “The Country List

  1. datasherpa 16th April 2013 / 20:58

    The realities of country codes is even more challenging. For example the sub-jurisdictions within a country such as states, provinces and cantons and the next level of jurisdiction such as counties. Another challenge is that in the US, native tribes are considered sovereign nations. Then we face such constraints such as can you fit all state, country, sub-jurisdiction and tribal codes into a numeric five digit field (a real world example).

    Of course we have the challenge of what constitutes a country? A UN definition, a State department definition or both? The United Kingdom sub-jurisdiction codes are another challenge. Who is the authoritative source for these codes? When you are dealing with multiple global organizations the governance rules change. How is the community notified of these changes? Try solving that problem in MDM. You can’t. You have to have humans with brains and intellect.

  2. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 17th April 2013 / 07:44

    Thanks Datasherpa and Gary for adding in.

  3. Mark Humphries 17th April 2013 / 08:17

    It’s an interesting example that’s easy for everyone to understand, but worth looking at from two angles.
    The angle you have already addressed, Henrik, is that arriving at a golden dataset is never trivial, even for a small, stable dataset that must be pretty simple. Expand this to a larger, more dynamic dataset, and the challenge grows.
    But the other angle is the practical side. In this case, try taking two or more candidate reference data sets (e.g. ISO and UPU), and then zoom in on the deltas. When you do this you will see that the differences are small, and you can quickly choose the best or most relevant for you. You will also see that some of the deltas are just irrelevant. Or that one source is more valid than others – you may decide that UPU is your golden standard, because a primary use of address data is for postal delivery.
    So, yes there will always be a need to actively manage the reference data, but it does not need to be a major overhead.

  4. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 17th April 2013 / 08:28

    Thanks for commenting Mark. Indeed, whether Antarctica is in a list or not will usually not have a huge business impact. The examples presented at the MDM Summit session included usage of a country list in different contexts as for example reference data for location and reference data for nationality.

  5. Dave Poole 21st April 2013 / 22:49

    An additional complexity with countries is that the technically precise interpretation of a country may not be understood by the people using a list of countries.
    For example on a website selling package holidays Majorca and Menorca may be presented as countries even though they are under the jurisdiction of Spain.

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