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Authoritative Source of Truth

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Written by Tyesia P. Alexander, Ph.D. (Email and John H. Coleman, Ph.D. (Email:
Edited by Wanda J. Eyre (Email and Claude D. Vance (email:
Submitted December, 4, 2018

Concise Definition

An authoritative source of truth is an entity such as a person, governing body, or system that applies expert judgement and rules to proclaim a digital artifact is valid and originates from a legitimate source.


The authoritative source of truth for a digital artifact serves as the primary means of ensuring the credibility and coherence of the digital artifact that its creators share with a variety of stakeholders. It gives stakeholders from diverse organizations and distributed locations the authorization to access, analyze, and use valid digital artifacts from an authoritative source. The owners of digital environments or the community for digital engineering ecosystems provides stakeholders with an authoritative source of truth that assures confidence in the quality of the digital artifact across disciplines, domains, and life cycle phases.

In order to do so, a digital artifact’s authoritative source of truth should meet four conditions. First, the digital artifact originates from a repository recognized by a governing entity as a System of Record (SoR). Second, the majority of experts accepts the credibility, accuracy, and trustworthiness of a digital artifact because it meets their “criteria of truth” [1]. For example, in the Model Based Engineering (MBE) domain, the digital artifact may meet the criteria of truth when most stakeholders agree that the preponderance of evidence upholds the validity of the digital artifact because it represents a commonly accepted perspective of reality [2]. Third, a digital artifact’s source is an authoritative when most experts agree that the source is legitimate. Finally, the digital artifact originates from a technological system that maintains its integrity and reinforces the conditions. If the SoR satisfies the four conditions; then, it is the Authoritative Source of Truth (SoT) for its digital artifact [3].


Conceptual Constructs

An Authoritative Source of Truth (ASoT) architecture provides the framework to ensure the validity and truthfulness of digital artifacts as they are managed throughout their lifecycle and the integrity of the enabling technological systems. According to a presentation by participants of an Air Force Study [4], the ASoT architecture owners should organize it according to technical platforms or domains and not by specific programs. The platform or domain focus of the ASoT architecture maximizes the usability of the digital artifacts by the communities of practicing engineers [4]. A governing entity that determines Systems of Record (SoRs) does so on the basis of digital artifacts used in its domain. For example, SoRs may include a requirements database, engineering cost data, a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) environment, and computer aided design (CAD) systems for transport aircraft. In order to satisfy the conditions for authority, the ASoT architecture must maintain the integrity of these technological systems in order to ensure that one – and only – one SoR exists for each digital artifact. As such, there is a one-to-many relationship between an ASoT and many digital artifacts.

Physical Construct

Many articles define the physical architectures of an authoritative source of truth or some alternative [5], [6]. [7] [8], [9]. The authors summarize many of the alternatives in the Similar Concepts and Definitions section below. Many forms of implementation fall in the categories of centralized, distributed, or federated [10].


The need to define ASoT for digital artifacts affirms that digital artifacts are not absolute truth. Moreover, most enterprises and ecosystems have no single source for all digital artifacts. Thus, the governance of ASoT must address the many challenges organizations will face when establishing and using an authorized source that relies on systems with relative truths. A key aspect of governance of the authoritative sources of truth is defining the entities that have authority and explicitly specifying what authority those entities possess. Again, an entity may be a person, group, organization, a technology-based system, or any combination thereof. ASoT governance involves identifying which repositories will serve as SoR for what type of digital artifacts and the stewardship of those SoRs. Governance should also determine what types of graphical and non-graphical information for which each SoR will serve as the authoritative source. Ultimately, governance should define the relationship between the SoTs and SoR’s for digital artifacts. It should seek agreement on methods for establishing SoTs with truthful, high quality and accurate digital artifact holdings. The governance should create rules to establish and distinguish the originator, owner, or steward of the digital artifacts and ASoT. It needs to define methods of identifying and restricting “rogue sources” of digital artifacts. Governance needs to establish means for stakeholders to get access to the authoritative source of truth for the digital artifacts they need in order to perform their assigned responsibilities. These are but a few of the challenges the governance for the ASoT must resolve.

Common usage

  • “Enterprises lack an operational system of record that acts as the authoritative source of truth for the organization’s work investments, progress and results [11].”
  • “While the DoD currently uses modeling throughout the acquisition lifecycle, it has been speculated that shifting to a dynamic, digital, model-centric ecosystem with a digital authoritative source of truth would be a key component to transforming the acquisition process. [12]”
  • “The authoritative source of truth will provide traceability as the system of interest evolves, capturing historical knowledge, and connecting authoritative versions of the models and data [13]”.


Similar Concepts and Definitions

Authoritative Source of Information as stated by gives the following description:

  • An authoritative source, in the legal context, is a body of law which takes precedence over others. An authoritative source is known to be reliable because its authority or authenticity is widely recognized. …All legal information comes from either primary or secondary sources. Primary sources articulate the law. …While primary sources articulate the law, secondary sources analyze the law. … A secondary authoritative source is one that has been written by an expert who is recognized in his or her field of expertise… [5]“

Single Source of Truth as stated by J. Spacey gives the following description:

  • A single source of truth is a single point of access and modification for a data element. It requires both a normalized data model and integration such that producers and consumers of a data element all access the same copy. Single source of truth is an architectural practice and data strategy that helps to ensure that data is reliable, accurate and secured [6].”

Master Data Management as stated by the Gartner Company gives the following description:

  • Master Data Management (MDM) is a technology-enabled discipline in which business and IT work together to ensure the uniformity, accuracy, stewardship, semantic consistency and accountability of the enterprise’s official shared master data assets. Master data is the consistent and uniform set of identifiers and extended attributes that describes the core entities of the enterprise including customers, prospects, citizens, suppliers, sites, hierarchies and chart of accounts [7].”

Data Federation Software as stated by gives the following description:

  • Data federation software is programming that provides an organization with the ability to aggregate data from disparate sources in a virtual database so it can be used for business intelligence (BI) or other analysis. The virtual database created by data federation software doesn't contain the data itself. Instead, it contains information about the actual data and its location (see metadata). The actual data is left in place Data federation technology can be used in place of a data warehouse to save the cost of creating a permanent, physical relational database [8].”

System of Record (SOR) as stated by gives the following description:

  • A system of record (SOR) is an ISRS (information storage and retrieval system) that is the authoritative source for a particular data element in a system containing multiple sources of the same element. To ensure data integrity, there must be one – and only one – system of record for a given piece of information. According to data warehousing expert Bill Inmon, every system of record shares the following characteristics: it provides the most complete, most accurate and most timely data, it has the best structural conformance to the data model, it is nearest to the point of operational entry and it can be used to feed other systems [9].”


  1. Authoritative Source is “A source of data or information that is recognized by members of a [Community of Interest] COI to be valid or trusted because it is considered to be highly reliable or accurate or is from an official publication or reference [17]
  2. Criteria of Truth “standard, or rule, by which to judge the accuracy of statements and opinions [1].”
  3. Data Governance “…is a system of decision rights and accountabilities for information-related processes, executed according to agreed-upon models which describe who can take what actions with what information, and when, under what circumstances, using what methods [18].”
  4. Trustworthiness is about establishing credible, transferable, confirmable, and dependable information from sources. [2].


[1] W. S. Sahakian and M. L. Sahakian, Ideas of the Great Philosphers, New York, NY: Barnes & Nobel, 1993.

[2] Wikipedia, “Truth,” Wikipedia.ort, 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 16 November 2018].

[3] S. Kudva, “The Difference Between System of Record and Source of Truth,” 31 March 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 16 November 2018].

[4] C. Sharbaugh, “USAF Digtial Engineering Ecosystem: AFMC/EN and Center for Analysis Sponsored Assessement,” in The November 2018 Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Digital Engineering Working Group (DEWG) Meeting Presentations, Alexandria, VA, 2018.

[5] US, “Authoritative Sources,” 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 27 November 2018].

[6] J. Spacey, ”“What is a Single Source Of Truth?”,“ Simplicable, 8 November 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 November 2018].

[7] Gartner, “Master Data Management (MDM),” Gartner IT Glossary, 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 November 2018].

[8] TechTarget, “Data Federation Software,” TechTarget, 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 November 2018].

[9], “System of Record (SOR),” TechTarget, 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 November 2018].

[10] R. Westman, “What Constitutes an Authoritative Source?,” 2 September 2009. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 27 November 2018].

[11] S. Zobell, “Why Digital Transformations Fail: Closing The $900 Billion Hole In Enterprise Strategy,” Forbes, 13 March 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 27 November 2018].

[12] P. Johnson, R. Orzechowski and B. Roger, “M&S Workbench - A Foundation for a Modeling and Simulation Digital Engineering Ecosystem,” in MODSIM World 2017: Modeling and Simulation in the Age of Data, Virginia Beach, VA, 2017.

[13] Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretaary of Defense for Systems Engineering, “Digital Engineering Strategy,” Department of Defense, Washington, DC, 2018.

[14] K. Kushiyama, “CERDEC Enhances C4ISR Product Lifecycle data Management Capabilities,” U.S. Army, Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, 6 June 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 27 November 2018].

[15] Tableau Software, “Journey to a Single Source of Truth at the FAA,”, 2 June 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 3 December 2018].

[16] BIMobject®, “BIMobject Talks – Single Source of Truth,” YouTube, 30 May 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 03 November 2018].

[17] Department of Defense, “DoD Directive 8320.2: Data Sharing in a Net-Centric Department of Defense,” Department of Defense, Washington, DC, 2004.

[18] The Data Goverance Institute, “Defintions of Data Goverance,” The Data Goverance Institute, 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 27 November 2018].

mbse/authoritative_source_of_truth.txt · Last modified: 2018/12/04 20:46 by jcoleman