This column is adapted from the book Universal Meta Data Models by David Marco and Michael Jennings (John Wiley & Sons, 2004).
In part one of this five-part series on Allstate's managed meta data environment (MME), I walked through their background and the challenges that motivated them to develop their meta data management application. In this second installment, I will discuss their MME's overall technical solution and the role of data stewardship at Allstate.
MME Solution Overview
Allstate realized that they needed a meta data repository to persistently store the meta data that they were collecting. In addition, they made sure to develop the appropriate processes in the meta data sourcing layer to properly populate and maintain the repository (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Allstate MME Environment
Allstate's initial focus was the management of the codes that permeated their systems. While a commercially available meta data integration tool was chosen to handle much of the meta data, there was no product on the market that allowed Allstate to both identify enumerated domains (those for which a set list of values can be listed) and define the various coding schemes that were found in the different applications and the associated business values. This led to the development of a custom portion of Allstate's MME solution called the codes management system (CMS). CMS, which started out as a simple prototype in a Microsoft Access database, allowed Allstate's codes analysts group to do their job more effectively. This group would be engaged by application teams to research all the codes and values of the application and to document them in the CMS repository. The codes analysts, along with a group of data administrators, then became the nucleus of the enterprise data management group. While they were out assisting an application area in researching and documenting their codes, they were also keeping an enterprise perspective by documenting each unique domain they encountered and storing it in the repository. As they worked with subsequent projects, they were able to see where the same data had been encoded differently between applications. When this happened, rather than create a duplicate domain, they would simply add another "collection" or physical coding scheme to the already existing domain.
This custom development of CMS allowed Allstate's MME a great deal of flexibility and extensibility - so much so that Allstate deployed its custom-developed repository to replace the commercial meta data integration product with which it began. Of course, the downside to this type of approach is the cost of development and maintenance.
Allstate's data stewardship council (DSC) is a cross-business unit team established in January 1997 and focused on the business aspects of managing data as a valued enterprise asset. It is a part-time, virtual team of Allstate employees who have strong business knowledge, vision and the ability to look horizontally across the enterprise. These data stewards are focused on addressing the business issues behind key data resource management objectives: managing data redundancy, implementing data shareability and standardization, and managing and improving data integrity.
As its first priority, DSC is addressing the issue of consistency of shared information through the development of enterprise definitions. This group has developed a process by which enterprise agreement is achieved. As part of this process, a business data steward is assigned ongoing responsibility to be the "enterprise point person" for a particular data subject. The stewards follow several basic principles for managing data resources of any type; these include the following:
- Requirements for the resource must be anticipated and fulfilled proactively.
- Allstate cannot afford an infinite amount of the data resource; therefore, the amount must be optimized.
- The data resource should be shared and leveraged in as many ways as possible in order to maximize its value while diminishing its overall costs.
- The data resource must be carefully managed to ensure that its use in the business is prudent, efficient, effective and secure.
In part three of this series, I will walk through the details of Allstate's meta data sourcing layer component of their MME.
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