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The traditional view is that metadata is boring and complex and should be left to technicians – perhaps it is time to think differently!

Metadata is boring and complex and should only be of interest to technical specialists and geeks!

Well, that is a commonly held view; however in today’s environment where exploiting data, in the form of Data Warehouse, Business Intelligence and Analytics, Master Data Management, Big Data, Data Governance and even Enterprise Architecture initiatives, is becoming more critical to the success of the enterprise, perhaps it is time to pay more attention to this often overlooked but critical area of IT.

Andrew White of Gartner referred to this in a recent blog post, “I look forward to the day that metadata management tools (and vendors) get into bed with operational business systems and applications, and help make (operational) information governance work, to help improve business outcomes.”

Metadata - too important for technicians only?

Metadata – too important for technicians only?

Understanding metadata is crucial. It provides the data foundations for the software applications upon which the world’s organisations rely. Today those enterprises are increasingly looking to leverage their investment in those systems by making more use of the data they hold. This means it is important to know as much as possible about it, in terms of its location, its relationships, definitions and meaning – in other words understanding the metadata. Doing this will help to deliver on the promise of those projects which seek to utilise that data.

In many applications and home grown systems finding, understanding and making use of this metadata is relatively straightforward, if a little unexciting.

In larger, more sophisticated and commonly customised applications from Enterprise Software vendors answering the question “where’s my data?” will be much more challenging. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of tables and relationships mean it is a herculean task to try to understand the underlying data models manually.

To add to the complexity; organisations – especially those implementing ‘big data’ projects are combining large quantities of often volatile data, from an increasing number of structured and unstructured sources, both internal and external, with the intention of providing users with better decision making capabilities.

Metadata is crucial here too because being able to ensure that for example what is meant by ‘customer’ across each application or data source is understood in the context of the analysis required will avoid costly mistakes, delays and the reduction in the trust the business has in the quality of the information provided.

There are some tools which address elements of metadata discovery and management. What is probably more important however is that metadata be perceived as a sharable data asset which can be reused across many different project and initiatives, rather than a dusty topic to be left to technical specialists.

‘Doing metadata properly’ will help to improve the chances of successful, timely projects.

Roland Bullivant

Find out more about how you can make metadata easier to access, understand and utilise

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