One sign that the practice of metadata management is maturing is that we are seeing it cross over from IT to the business side of enterprises, and with it the rising need for business metadata. This is core to any successful Data Stewardship or Data Governance initiative. But first, what is Business Metadata?
- Technical Metadata describes the data from an IT point-of-view: where is the data located, what is the table name, what type of data is in the field, etc.
- Business Metadata describes non-technical terminology used by business stakeholders to collaborate across both business and IT to better perform their roles. From there business users add context such as:
- Business term definition captured using “plain-English” (in English speaking countries), non-technical terminology.
- Term owners or stewards
- Date proposed, published, last changed
- Policies attached to terms
- Business rules attached to terms (including rules to calculate, derive, summarize, etc)
- Reference Data associated with terms
- Free form annotation and links to other sources of context
So, why do you need business metadata and, even better, why should you invest resources to capture and maintain it? It has been said that data without business context is useless. Or, as John Schmidt put it in his blog on the Laws of Integration, “Information = Data + Context.”
Here are a few good reasons why you should invest in business metadata:
. IT Productivity. Do you spend months iterating between business and IT on new projects and changes? A larger part of the problem can be a lack of a common business vocabulary used during requirements capture, which causes mis-understanding on project specifications.
For example, when a business user asks to show “Net Revenue” in a report, which net revenue does that business user mean: The finance definition, the marketing definition, the sales definition? All can be valid definitions with valid uses. So, when do you use which definition?
The real magic comes when you link business and technical metadata to create a common vocabulary across the enterprise. Then you have a common lingua franca that removes ambiguity, speeds up project delivery, and reduces the chance of errors that can cause bad data.
. General Productivity. The same advantages apply when communicating between business units and across functional organizations.
An example of this is a large multinational conglomerate who told me that they were having trouble doing quarterly roll-ups for business unit operational performance reviews. The problem was that different business units were calculating numbers such as Net Revenue differently, leading to apples-and-oranges comparisons between business units.
Another example is a large Financial Services company who told me that they have five different currency exchange calculators. All have valid uses. And, as you can imagine, it is critical that you use the right calculator for the right purpose, or you will produce bad data – and ultimately bad decisions with bad results. In this example, anybody who was unsure which calculator to use had to call the calculator owners to figure out which was the right one to use. You can image the confusion and lost productivity.
. Regulatory Compliance. In general, regulatory compliance requires you to be able to answer questions such as:
Where did that number come from?
How was it calculated?
Who owns it?
Who has changed it?
What policies apply to it? (Examples: Security or Archiving policies)
The whole audit process gets faster and more accurate when you have clear, commonly understood terms that are linked to the underlying technical metadata.
Regulatory compliance isn’t an option. It’s a mandate. The question is: How much of your company’s budget and resources will you spend complying? The faster and better you get this work done, the sooner you can back to the real reasons you are in business. An often bypassed benefit of a compliance-driven business metadata effort is the fact that you can actually achieve real economies of scale by leveraging this business glossary in efficiency-, productivity-, and growth-related efforts as well. (i.e., improved decision support as part of a business intelligence effort, improved customer intelligence for targeted marketing, etc).
The answer to the question of “Who needs business metadata” is; almost everybody. As Chris Belmont, the CIO of Ochsner Health Systems put it in a recent article, “We’re finding that a lot of our challenges are not necessarily getting the data to make sense, but getting the people to agree that the data makes sense.” It will make your company faster, more agile and more competitive. For tips on ensuring that your metadata management initiatives are successful see “Ten Ways to Drive the Success of Your Metadata Initiative.”
I have been seeing a big increase in customer activity around metadata this past year, and particularly around business metadata. The reasons why are pretty clear: It’s all about business agility and corporate competitiveness.