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I'm trying to persuade management on the importance of meta data.

  • Sid Adelman, Chuck Kelley, Michael Jennings, Clay Rehm
  • December 09 2003, 1:00am EST


I'm trying to persuade management on the importance of meta data. Can someone please provide me pointers on this matter? Why should management spend $$$ on meta data products/solutions?


Sid Adelman’s Answer: Take a look at David Marco’s book Building and Managing the Meta Data Repository; he discusses some ways of looking at the ROI of meta data. Another way to look at it is that every data warehouse consultant I know considers meta data a critical success factor for a data warehouse. This means that if you don’t have it you fail, so don’t even bother thinking about a data warehouse unless you plan to spend some effort on it. This does not necessarily mean buying an expensive tool. A number of successful implementations have put their meta data on a simple relational database or have used the meta data capabilities of the ETL tool, the data modeling tools or the BI tool. They may not have been perfect solutions but they worked. The important point is that management must recognize its importance, provide the authority and assign the responsibility.

Chuck Kelley’s Answer: Meta data is the blueprint of the data warehouse. Would you build a house with a blueprint? Likewise, when something is wrong with the house, do you look at the blueprint to see how it was built (at least in the beginning)? Yes. The same will be true with meta data. However, most data warehouses do not have meta data or are homegrown. I don’t think that it has to necessarily cost a lot of money to do a meta data repository. A homegrown approach is reasonable.

Mike Jennings’ Answer: The question back to management should be what is the cost and impact to the business of misinterpreting and acting on misleading information from their operational and data warehouse environments? If you do not understand the context of the information you are using you can not accurately use the content. Relying solely on field descriptions on input pages and column headers in reports often leads to information being used in an organization erroneously. For example, if a monthly human resources turnover report had a column header "European Turnover Percent," what would you deduce about the percentage data value represents? Without further clarification, you may make assumptions about the turnover rate in Europe that is incorrect. For example, does the European turnover value include the U.K. and Ireland? What type of turnover calculation was used to determine the value, rolling average or annualized? Without the meta data behind the data, you’re left to guess what the value really represents and what impact it has on your company.

A meta data repository can collect and transfer meta data about your firm’s entire enterprise. The repository allows companies to manage change and growth with their applications with reduced cost and resources. How does your company currently determine the effect, level of effort and downstream impact of business changes to an application? Do you know what data movement, data transformation, business processes/transactions and reports are affected by this change? With a meta data repository, you can immediately create an impact analysis of the change on the enterprise to get a total view. A repository can also be used to supplement the operational and data warehousing information delivery methods so users have accurate knowledge on the definition, business rules, calculations, operational statistics and other pertinent meta data on the information to make intelligent decisions.

Clay Rehm’s Answer: Use examples and analogies. How important is being clear? And concise? How important is a spell checker and thesaurus in your Word processor? This is one idea of using examples and analogies. Without meta data, even simple terms have no meaning, and a simple term may have a different meaning to each and every person. Meta data provides standard semantics so communication is not so difficult.

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