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About 'About'
(or Ambiguity versus the illusion of Precision in tabular databases)
April 2008
Michael Scofield

Most traditional commercial business applications gather and store data that has a high level of precision. Business data either describes parties to business relationships (customers and vendors, both of which are willing participants) or business events primarily in the purview of the enterprise itself. In all of these areas, data is supplied willingly and it is usually in everyone’s interest for it to be accurate.

Take, for example, date of birth. Most people in modern society know their DOB and will disclose it when entering into a business relationship (such as opening a bank account). They usually have no reason to lie about their age. So a DOB column in a Customer Master File is going to be precise (down to the day) and generally reliable (ignoring, for a moment, that corporate, i.e., non-human customers have no DOB).

Michael Scofield highlights the importance of capturing the ambiguity of data — a requirement that tabular database designs often fail to address.