We all make assumptions; we use them to guide our thinking and the way in which we view the world. The problem arises when our assumptions start to limit our thinking and our ability to see a vision of something different. We don't have to look far to see where people missed the boat with their miserable assumptions:

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943.

"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year." - Business Editor for Prentice Hall rejecting a book on data processing, 1957.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olsen, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977 (I owe this quote to Yasemin Urkmez).

What assumptions do we make as information, data and metadata architects? What old beliefs are we still holding onto that need a fresh look? Do any of these ring a bell?

  1. Metadata is only a database technology and not applicable anywhere else.
  2. Data quality must be 100 percent perfect or the whole effort is a failure.
  3. Highly experienced consultants and solution providers are required.
  4. A purchased application is a core requirement.
  5. Metadata must be part of a large-scale data architecture project.
  6. All users are alike and want advanced application functionality.
  7. To be successful, a large investment of resources is required.
  8. ROI cannot be calculated.
  9. Only metadata professionals can capture and archive the data, not the end user.
  10. Active metadata is a far better solution that passive metadata.

Without a doubt, you could double this list in a few minutes. I would love to spend the next few hours discussing all of these, but in the interest of time, I'll focus on one. Take a look at number 10; perhaps the longest standing belief in our space. Let's play with that statement and make some changes just to see what happens.
Passive metadata is a better solution than active metadata. Not many people would run with that statement to the bank. Yet, how many world class active solutions have you seen that were not also world class passive ones?

Universal passive metadata is a better solution than limited active metadata. Now we are getting somewhere. Would you agree that a large-scale passive repository is better than a small scale active one? Suppose, you have the option of buying a universal card catalog for your entire technology portfolio or buying an active Web service registry; which would you choose? Which one has the greatest ROI? Are you willing to bet the farm on that choice?

Metadata has a natural progression from passive, to active, to collaborative. You can't argue on the order here because you can't build any active base utility without first having a passive store of information. Additionally, having an active repository is the stepping stone to having a collaborative metadata solution. So perhaps the argument is not active versus passive, but one of the degrees of progression.

The lines between active and passive are blurring; they are one in the same. Is Dell's side-by-side product comparison an active utility or a passive one? The answer is a passive utility; if they sent out a search-bot to review other PC prices, then that would be considered more active. Most people that take a stand for active based utility use a very broad brush in describing this functionality. The best example of active utility is impact analysis, or so I am told. Ironically, impact analysis is nothing more than showing that asset A is related to asset B. Why is that any different than showing other descriptor metadata like steward or date of submission? What is active about showing this relationship metadata? Now, if the application took "fuzzy" metadata, which is incomplete by nature, and then defined predictive relationships, then I would agree you have active utility. Adding business functionality and workflow operations are much more in line with active utility. Again, that simply is a natural progression of passive utility.

As we observe progressions in the business world, we see something very interesting. Organizations are moving from being product-focused, to service focused, to solution focused. Consultant companies are approaching the world of business with a solution mind-set, and we should as well. Personally, I believe that the world of metadata is also progressing from structured registries, unstructured repositories, application and service based repositories to collaborative metadata solutions. Still not sure of this trend? Take a look at Figure 1 and tell me what they are selling.

Figure 1

As a customer, you can get a cup of coffee, Internet access, and meeting rooms at no cost. You can stay as long as you like to read a good book or read the daily newspaper. It's not a bookstore, nor a Harley Davidson store. In fact, you can't actually buy any of the company's products and services here. Yet, this "store" generated $200 million in new accounts in its first year. The store is part of ING's Direct Café where the friendly customer-service employees are financial experts willing to discuss the company's products at length, if you ask them.

Imagine sitting around the board of directors' meeting discussing the fall in earnings, low customer satisfaction scores and the customer churn rate. "Our business is in trouble and we need action," shouts the CEO. Then, someone stands up and says, "Let's open up a café and close our branch offices." After that person is sent to corporate Siberia, the board would return to their balance sheets and annual reports for more analysis. Yet at ING, someone challenged the assumptions at the tune of $200 million. What assumptions are you still holding on to?

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