One of the most vital functions of any managed metadata environment (MME) is to provide the technical architecture and processes to manage corporate knowledge. All corporations strive to become more intelligent. To attain a competitive advantage, a business needs its IT systems to manage more than just its data; they must manage knowledge (that is, metadata). As a corporation's IT systems mature, they progress from collecting and managing data to collecting and managing knowledge. Knowledge is a company's most valuable asset, and an MME is the key technological backbone for managing a company's corporate knowledge.1

George Bernard Shaw once said, "The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished." Executives often do not realize how neglecting to properly manage the company's knowledge (metadata) can negatively affect their bottom-line profits, or they are under the illusion that proper communication and understanding are occurring. This couldn't be further from the truth.

Adhere to Regulatory Requirements

Every industry has its own dizzying array of regulatory requirements. Corporations must be able to meet these requirements, because the penalties can be severe. They range from large monetary fees to felony charges levied against senior executives within the organization. Many companies look to an MME architecture to assist them in meeting these requirements. Because most information in a company is stored electronically, an MME can greatly assist an organization in tracking, monitoring and recording changes to its data and documents.

Enable Enterprise Applications

Without an enterprise-wide MME, your organization does not have a common understanding of the data across its systems. How do you build an enterprise-wide application - that is, a customer relationship management (CRM), data warehousing or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system - without an enterprise-view understanding of the data? The answer for most companies is that they can't. This is why many research firms state that CRM initiatives fail more than 90 percent of the time. In fact, Tom Siebel proclaimed, "There's no market for CRM ... It's not there. There are a lot of companies trying to get into the space ... But they are going after a market that doesn't exist."2

Realistically, this is not the case because there is a clear business need to understand and manage all of a customer's touchpoints. Why does the man who marketed CRM the most and made the most money from it claim that it is dead? Maybe it is because these CRM initiatives are highly complex and as a result have created a large number of expensive failures. These failures, along with a compressed IT economy, may have caused companies to abandon CRM. Personally, I don't expect Siebel Systems to stop making CRM software. On the other hand, I interpret Tom Siebel's comments to mean that we have to get ready for a new term for the same old thing.

In my January 2000 column for DM Review, I gave predictions for the future of the data warehousing industry. In writing this column, I realized that the most important thing I could do was make sure that my predictions were accurate. Therefore, the first prediction was that most large government agencies and Global 2000 companies would spend a great deal of time and money rebuilding their data warehousing investments. This was a simple prediction to make. During the 1990s, corporations raced to build their data warehouses as quickly as they could. In their zeal to do this, many organizations neglected to build the architecture necessary to grow their systems over time. In many cases, these companies built independent data marts, which are directly sourced from operational systems without a data warehouse. These companies also neglected to implement an MME. Without an MME, it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to maintain and enhance a data warehouse.

This is especially true if a company has implemented multiple, disparate data warehousing systems. Having multiple data warehouses can lead to the following problems:

  • Duplicate data,
  • Duplicate reports and queries,
  • Increased strain on operational batch windows and
  • Multiple versions of the truth.

An MME addresses the excessive IT redundancies in this type of environment and acts as the glue that binds the data warehouses together. This makes MMEs even more vital in a cluttered environment.
Global 2000 companies spend billions of dollars analyzing existing data warehousing systems for requirements and business rules, which have long been forgotten and should have been initially managed in the MME. These same companies will continue to invest equally large expenditures into CRM and other enterprise-spanning applications. If you do not properly manage your metadata, you will have a very difficult time implementing enterprise-wide systems.

MMEs may not be as glamorous as CRM applications, but these projects deliver real value as opposed to the 90 percent-plus failure rate. Running a successful business is about concentrating single-mindedly on the fundamentals and executing those fundamentals.


  1. For more information on knowledge management, refer to Chapter 11 of my book Building and Managing the Meta Data Repository. John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
  2. "Tom Siebel's Vision for the Software Industry - Part 1." The Siebel Observer, 2003.

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