Information management systems are becoming more complex, in large part due to more integration between a wider variety of sources, both within and without the organization's walls. Ventana Research, in a report on how cloud computing is changing integration, notes that organizations are already integrating an average of five or more different data sources.
That's why metadata is becoming a critical management challenge for IT shops. In much the same way we've had to consolidate and centralize master data, IT will need to centralize and consolidate metadata.
Metadata is commonly explained as the data about the data, but that definition belies how complicated metadata management can be. I once explained metadata as similar to table headings. If the table held information about customers, where you label one column "Date" and another column "Last name" and another column "First Name" and so on, "Those labels are metadata - they describe the data in the columns," I wrote.
But that's oversimplified, as Francis Carden, the founder of OpenSpan, pointed out in the reader comments:
The way MetaData is described here is as a field name. However, break your meta data further and ONLY THEN do you find the REAL problem. The spreadsheet data example needs a 4th column for me to explain. Say, it's "Balance". The data is $379,332.22, the MetaData is "Balance" and the MetaDescription is "((History_Bal-Account_Year1_Bal)/12)+(Credit_Score/fudge_Factor)". Now in order for any integration to post this data is dangerous without the business logic. Imagine if 75 percent of your metadata is derived from business logic.
Metadata is critical to integration because when you integrate data what you're actually doing is matching up the metadata, according to Evan Levy of Baseline Consulting (which is now owned by DataFlux). Experts also predict data integration vendors will focus more on supporting metadata management this year.
Metadata is also increasingly important to other initiatives including business intelligence. For example, you can get more out of a prepackaged BI solution by ensuring that it supports metadata from your back-end systems, according to a recent Virtual Circle article by Lou Agosta. Agosta writes:
If an enterprise is operating an ERP system from SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft, then look for technology with metadata that enables the back-end ERP system to be easily and rapidly configured by the BI presentation layer. In other words, do not expect a system designed to work with Microsoft Dynamic AX to provide visibility to proprietary SAP business application process interfaces (BAPIs).
If you'd like to learn more about why metadata management will be a key component to information management, you might want to check out this week's Briefing Room, which will feature IT analyst Robin Bloor. He'll also discuss the value of an information-oriented architecture and discuss low-hanging fruit you can target in your own data environment.
"Metadata Management as the Key to Agile BI" is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. ET tomorrow, June 14, and as always you should preregister. The event will also feature Ian Fyfe of Pentaho who will talk about centralized metadata management and share real-world customer examples of how the company's solutions help organizations avoid data silos.