STARS, STARS, everywhere are STARS...

From the beginning of time folks who use business systems have figured out "work-arounds" in their systems so they can "have" functionality which isn't designed into the database or business systems they use to "see" their data. My favorite such "work-around" that keeps coming back to haunt me like a bad dream is adding characters (usually STARS) to names or identifiers.

Imagine if you will you have a customer database containing all your customer data and a simple user interface which manages this data. Included are customer organizations, contacts at those organizations and all kinds of other interesting bits of data about that customer. After the system is deployed and folks start using it for a period of time you notice that for some reason people have started to put a strange character next to the companies name.


Customer ID: 123
Customer name: IBM*
...other bits of data...

Customer ID: 456
Customer Name: Microsoft*
...other bits of data...

Customer ID: 789
Customer Name: Johnie's Tackle Shop
...other bits of data...

Note here: Sometimes they are added to the beginning, sometimes to the end, sometimes there are multiple STARS or other characters somewhere in the middle. Sometimes the data in the fields is purposefully set to all UPPER CASE where the other records are in "Proper Case" - I think you get the picture here.

As a software engineer you probably don't care much about these STARS because you haven't been asked to change this system recently - other then estimate how much it would cost to add a new field to keep track of the type of customer it is.

As a data steward (or other flavor of Data Geek) you've already done your due diligence and asked around and found out the folks who use this application denote certain types of customers as STAR customers and these are (something like) the ones you "really want to keep happy" or some other indicator of importance or distinction for these records.

I've been seeing STARS in data now for over decade in different organizations/data-sets and I'd like to go out on an limb and ask:

1) Software developers, can you please?
a) recognize that if you are seeing STARS
it means that your software does not meet the
requirements of the folks who are really using
the system (although it might meet the
requirements you received on paper)
b) give reasonable estimates on remedies to add
fields to properly annotate attributes of these
objects (ie. in this example: add a field called
VIP_CUSTOMER to the database and allow it to be
managed in the applications your building)
2) Data Geeks, can you please?
a) beg your software developers to read
and address question #1 above
b) beg/borrow/steal time/money from
other projects to fix this

As time progresses, these STAR fields end up being significant management headaches for everyone involved. "Hey Joe the Plumber, how come you didn't annotate that customer record as a STAR customer?".

The fields also end up taking a life of themselves (can you create me a report which only shows customer which have STARS in their names). "Hey, what does STAR-STAR mean at the beginning of a customer name, I thought we only added a single STAR to the end of customer names?".

Hoping the STARS align in your favor...Rich