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IT's dumb fight over intelligent part numbers

David Taber | June 8, 2015
In a battle as old as ERP itself, users demand intelligent numbers that the IT team bucks against. The battle pits “intelligent” numbering systems that embed key identifying information against generic numbers that are easier to manage, remember and communicate. In this argument, it's the IT pros who are wrong.

Finally, the human-optimized numbers can be automatically generated out of data already in the system, so they can be refreshed on demand. (That said, it's generally a good idea to not change existing numbers until the end of the quarter...somebody may have written it down on a sticky note somewhere.)

In a real-world example, a client uses 9-digit customer numbers as the external key for accounts. However, they only have five digit's worth of customers, and over half of them can be represented with four digits. Most of the accounts have parent-child relationships, and sales would like to be able to quickly detect some basic account characteristics without looking at detail records. So we created a formula in the CRM system that synthesizes an account number for human use only, using this format:

<CountryCode>-<Truncated Acct#>-<ChannelType>-<UltimateParent Truncated Acct#>

A typical account number might look like this:


An ultimate parent company (which by definition has no parent) looks like this:


 The same formula-driven approach works for Contacts, like this:

<CountryCode>-<Truncated Contact#>-<CompanyType>-<Truncated Acct#>

 And for Opportunities:

<CountryCode>-<Truncated Oppty#>-<Transaction Type>-<Truncated Acct#>

 Similar approaches can be used for nearly any object that humans need to confer over, such as products, shipments, cases, and payments

Exposing your identifiers
To be truly useful, these human-optimized identifiers should be available for display by sales, support and operations people across as many systems as possible. So they should be exposed to external interfaces and published on information busses, even though no business logic should use them.

  One of the side-effects of using this approach is that it exposes data quality problems that were easily ignored (or even hidden from view). Every time a human uses the formula-generated number, they may spot a discrepancy that is glaringly obvious under the lens of common sense. With these formulas, even IT may be able to appreciate the value of the formally-despised intelligent number.


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