This article is adapted from the book, Universal Meta Data Models by David Marco & Michael Jennings, John Wiley & Sons, 2004.

Over the years, I have frequently been asked to discuss the specific details of a world class managed meta data environment (MME). It is for this reason that I featured Allstate and RBC Financial in my latest book. Both Allstate and RBC Financial are large, international and complex corporations whose MME implementations contain enterprise meta data across their information technology (IT) applications. In this column, I will be walking through Allstate's background and the challenges that motivated them to develop their MME.

Over the last several years, Allstate's MME has been recognized as a world-class meta data management initiative that has garnered multiple meta data management awards. Like any great success, it took a precise focus and a great deal of hard work to make this system a reality.

The Allstate Corporation is the nation's largest publicly held personal lines insurer. Allstate provides insurance products to more than 16 million households and has approximately 12,300 exclusive agents and financial specialists in the U.S. and Canada. Customers can access Allstate products and services through Allstate agents or in select states at and 1-800-Allstate. Encompass and Deerbrook Insurance brand property and casualty products are sold exclusively through independent agents. Allstate Financial Group includes the businesses that provide life and supplemental insurance, retirement, banking and investment products through distribution channels that include Allstate agents, independent agents and banks, and securities firms.

Corporations that lack effective data management practices experience many difficulties as they attempt to integrate systems into their IT environments. In the early 1990s, Allstate, like most large corporations, found itself challenged with managing disparate systems to satisfy its IT needs. Allstate wanted its applications to be able to talk across platforms. Unfortunately, systems that have different coding schemes for common codes and mismatches in field types and sizes cannot interchange data easily. Also, the rise in popularity of data warehousing demanded a precise understanding and knowledge of the data that the analysts of the data warehouse would utilize. Therefore, Allstate embarked on an enterprise data architecture project in 1995, and all meta data management processes that Allstate follows today grew from that initiative. Allstate's area leader of data management Doug Stacey commented, "Managing the data assets of a corporation of Allstate's size and complexity is no small task. Unlike our competitors, we realized that a sound meta data management practice and process would provide our company with a significant advantage in our marketspace."

The insurance industry is a very "code-driven" environment because every state has its own regulatory statutes to which Allstate must adhere. Without a sound data management strategy across different applications and many departments, it is highly time-consuming and difficult to integrate systems. The use of sound meta data management techniques was expected to reduce or eliminate IT rework, speed up projects and lower their overall costs.

Also, with the advent of the data warehouse initiative, data quality was suddenly more important than ever. It was no longer left to subject-matter experts in an application area to know what the data represented, what it actually meant and how to use it. This data was now going to be presented to actual end users, and one cannot afford to have user "interpretations" of what the data may mean be used to make real live business decisions! Again, the expectation was that a strong, centralized data management environment would be the basis for consistent data driving high-quality decisions by end users.

In part two of this series, I will review Allstate's MME solution. 

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