An enterprise asset is a technical resource that can be used across business units and/or across applications. This definition includes assets such as Web services, shared components, systems, interfaces, data definition and schemas. The idea is that an enterprise repository should contain any asset regardless of type. That being said, most organizations have a collection of repositories to fulfill the service of metadata delivery. One common theme is that if you don't share the asset, then why would you catalog it? What would you do if a business unit approached your metadata organization with a truckload of data assets but wanted to lock access down so that no one could access the information? Worse yet, these data assets are not enterprise level and can't be shared with other business units.

Costs Associated with Metadata

Personally, I have always tried to look at metadata as a business, and just like all businesses, there are costs associated with bringing data into the repository. You have to spend resources on data analysis, data transformations and data quality, not to mention the additional layers of complexity that more information brings to any knowledge store. Keep in mind, this is not a one-time expense. Each and every month, you will allocate a percentage of your efforts on the current portfolio. This may include general maintenance, reporting, data aging and quality inspections, all of which take time and effort. Based on this, you may only want the highest-valued assets in your collection, not just the greatest number.

Reuse is Valuable

As a business owner, you want the most profitable items that you can sell. You will place these high-profit items in the best locations in order to increase your ROI. This is why they place milk and eggs in the back of the store. You are forced to walk past the high-profit items in order to access the staples. Same thing with metadata: although we don't exchange money, value either comes from reuse (high profit) or information exchange (low profit). Reuse is the actual implementation or integration of an asset that has already been created. You trade integration costs for the development and support costs of building it yourself. Information exchange is where your customers come to the repository in order to gain knowledge about an asset or gain a better understanding of the role or value that assets bring to the technology community. Ideally, you want a large inventory of reusable assets; this creates value for the organization. Should you add data that won't be reused? Sure, low profit items are fine if you have enough have empty shelf space (i.e., capacity). Capacity in the metadata world is the physical resources that are required to manage the information.

So if organizations are coming to the table with no reuse but can generate traffic, then I might consider it, assuming it doesn't distract me from my high-dollar products (reusable data assets) or confuse the customer (usability concerns). What about if they are not going to have either - no reuse and no traffic improvements for your environment? Then, I would ask myself if there are any branding opportunities that can generate traffic or reuse in other areas of the environment. "Come see the Metadata Repository, we have the Super Secret 007 Database." So even if there is no profit, you still might carry the information to bring in the customers. Another reason that I might consider it is if the data environment was unique in some way that my team could learn something new in the process. The environment might allow us to try new techniques or simply stay sharp with our current model. These are all valid reasons to lose money in the transaction.

With all of the caveats out of the way, let's answer the leading question: do you have to load everything asked by the business unit? The clear answer is no. This is your business, and as the person or group in charge, you own the inventory. Michael Abrashoff penned an excellent book on leadership entitled It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy. Abrashoff defines the essence of leadership as your ability to communicate responsibility and ownership; after all, it's your ship.1

The same thing applies in our world of metadata; it's your metadata. If the information that is being requested does not promote the long-term growth in content, usage and reuse, then you need to do the right thing and keep it out. That's why we create standards, policies and restrictions that govern information. We want to win the war for metadata, and that may require us to lose a few battles in the process.


  1. Michael Abrashoff. It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy. New York: Warner Books, 2002.

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