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A cat is a cat is a cat… the importance of “semantics”

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Conceptual data modelling : a cat is a cat

Let’s pretend the good man works in supply chain and the cat is a customer. Our good man considers his customer to be the "retailers" of his organization's product. However, his neighbour, who works in Marketing, would consider his customers to be "consumers". Going through other parts of the organization, our customer changes names: "purchaser" in the wholesale department, "account" to accounts payable, "buyer" in FMCG…

Is the whole organisation talking about the same customer but with different names?
Not necessarily. While a customer is defined as "someone who pays for goods or services", a consumer, on the other hand, is "a person who uses goods or services". So the customer pays for the goods or service while the consumer uses them. A consumer is not a customer.

 customer is not a consumer

On the other hand, “retailers”, “purchaser”, “accounts” and “buyer” could be synonyms of “customer” since they also pay for products or services without the idea of consuming them.

How can we make the difference?

By specifying the relationship a customer, or its many given names, has with goods and services. A consumer only uses the goods, a customer purchases them: the relationship is different.

Customer purchase and consume product

A retailer is a customer purchasing products with the intention to resell them. The purchase of the products makes the retailer a customer but the intention to resell these products makes it a different customer. A retailer is still a customer, just a bit more special.

customer purchases and resells products 

How do we manage it?

By building a business glossary. Using semantics, this glossary would describe consumer and customer as 2 separate terms. Purchaser, buyer and account would be featured as synonyms of customer. Retailer would be featured as a sub-type of customer. This would allow our good man to know the difference between his retailer as a special customer and his neighbour’s consumer. Any data modeller would recognise here that semantics form the basis for information architecture (or conceptual data modelling by any other name).

Why should we manage it?

As Customers and Consumers are not the same, they are not described in the same manner. The information required by a Marketing department to identify which Consumers to target will be different from the information Accounts Payable would require to collect payments for the goods or services a Customer would have purchased. One would be interested in demographic and interests while the other is more focused on payment details.

Specifying the different aspects of Consumers and Customers allows us to:

  • Define a structure to store the relevant data: our Marketing team needs to know where to find their Consumer’s records.
  • Specify how the information is used, transformed and communicated: our Accounts Payable team needs to identify which Customers have paid their invoices or hold overdue bills.
  • Manage access to the information: our Accounts Payable team may have access to the payment aspects of the Customer whereas only the Sales team can create and delete a Customer’s record.

So is a customer, after all, a customer?

A customer is NOT a consumer.
A customer is a purchaser is a buyer is an account is a customer.
And a retailer is a special customer.

Comment

Let’s pretend the good man works in supply chain and the cat is a customer. Our good man considers his customer to be the "retailers" of his organization's product. However, his neighbour, who works in Marketing, would consider his customers to be "consumers". Going through other parts of the organization, our customer changes names: "purchaser" in the wholesale department, "account" to accounts payable, "buyer" in FMCG…

Is the whole organisation talking about the same customer but with different names?
Not necessarily. While a customer is defined as "someone who pays for goods or services", a consumer, on the other hand, is "a person who uses goods or services". So the customer pays for the goods or service while the consumer uses them. A consumer is not a customer.

 customer is not a consumer

On the other hand, “retailers”, “purchaser”, “accounts” and “buyer” could be synonyms of “customer” since they also pay for products or services without the idea of consuming them.

How can we make the difference?

By specifying the relationship a customer, or its many given names, has with goods and services. A consumer only uses the goods, a customer purchases them: the relationship is different.

Customer purchase and consume product

A retailer is a customer purchasing products with the intention to resell them. The purchase of the products makes the retailer a customer but the intention to resell these products makes it a different customer. A retailer is still a customer, just a bit more special.

customer purchases and resells products 

How do we manage it?

By building a business glossary. Using semantics, this glossary would describe consumer and customer as 2 separate terms. Purchaser, buyer and account would be featured as synonyms of customer. Retailer would be featured as a sub-type of customer. This would allow our good man to know the difference between his retailer as a special customer and his neighbour’s consumer. Any data modeller would recognise here that semantics form the basis for information architecture (or conceptual data modelling by any other name).

Why should we manage it?

As Customers and Consumers are not the same, they are not described in the same manner. The information required by a Marketing department to identify which Consumers to target will be different from the information Accounts Payable would require to collect payments for the goods or services a Customer would have purchased. One would be interested in demographic and interests while the other is more focused on payment details.

Specifying the different aspects of Consumers and Customers allows us to:

  • Define a structure to store the relevant data: our Marketing team needs to know where to find their Consumer’s records.
  • Specify how the information is used, transformed and communicated: our Accounts Payable team needs to identify which Customers have paid their invoices or hold overdue bills.
  • Manage access to the information: our Accounts Payable team may have access to the payment aspects of the Customer whereas only the Sales team can create and delete a Customer’s record.

So is a customer, after all, a customer?

A customer is NOT a consumer.
A customer is a purchaser is a buyer is an account is a customer.
And a retailer is a special customer.

1 Comment
Marie-Elisabeth Prignol
Not applicable

It's the first time that I see this notion so excellently described. Thank you.