The Business - and Integration - Value of Metadata

Share it on Twitter  
Share it on Facebook  
Share it on Linked in  

I'm not into making predictions, but if I were, I think I would've predicted we'd hear a lot more about metadata this year. And if not this year, then the next.


Actually, it's a pretty easy prediction. As enterprises become all Web 2.0, metadata becomes more important. Plus, there's already more chatter about semantic technology in the enterprise this year, and whenever you talk about semantic tech, you're going to be talking about metadata.


Metadata is the data about data. If you've ever tagged content on a blog or in a content management system, you've created metadata.


Most business users know that search engines use metadata, but beyond that, metadata's purpose is largely a mystery. Even within IT, metadata is used primarily by data architects-but that could change, according to Suganthi Shivkumar, the managing director for South Asia Informatica.


Shivkumar makes the case for broader knowledge and use of metadata - particularly for integration-in "Manage Metadata to Manage Your Business Better," on CXOToday.com.


This is a good primer for business users uncertain about how metadata can be used, but it's also a good read for IT leaders who'd like to understand its broader implications. As Shivkumar explains:


"In fact, metadata management is the foundation of data integration. ... Metadata facilitates the understanding of the characteristics and usage of data. From a technical perspective, metadata is used to help IT organizations better manage and maintain their data assets. From a business perspective, metadata provides context to data, acting as the semantic layer between a company s IT systems and its business users."


She also looks at how IT has typically created and used metadata-either through hand coding or standalone metadata solutions-and the limitations of these approaches. Of course, Shivkumar works for Informatica, which sells a metadata manager product, but she stops short of an outright shill for Informatica. Instead, she focuses on the benefits of "an effective metadata management solution."


Those benefits include decreasing the time it takes to discover data for integration projects, eliminating redundancies during mergers and acquisitions, and improved compliance and data governance, according to Shivkumar.


It's pretty easy to see how metadata could help with data integration. But while I was digging around for more information on the topic, I stumbled across a September piece I'd overlooked on how metadata can help with infrastructure integration.


No, really. Lori MacVittie, who writes the Two Different Socks blog at F5 Dev Central, wrote a fascinating post about how APIs and metadata can be used for infrastructure integration. She contends that while many see this as an either/or proposition, the two approaches actually work well together:


"Both metadata integration and API-based integration will be required to build out a truly portable, dynamic infrastructure. And if we look at what's happened in the web application space, we see that it, too, has compromised on a combination of metadata (standardizing on XML and JSON) and APIs to enable the cross-application sharing of data and functions that essentially today make up the 'social networking web.'"


MacVittie's post is, as always, surprisingly accessible to non-techies, and as a bonus, she explains a bit about how metadata-based integration differs from API-based integration.