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

In part three of this five-part series on Allstate's managed meta data environment (MME), I walked through the meta data sourcing layer component of their MME. In this fourth installment, I will present the details of the meta data delivery layer of their MME.

Allstate's MME has a sophisticated meta data delivery layer, which has several different meta data delivery mechanisms. These mechanisms include meta data for the data warehouse, static data management,  DTDs and schemas, and viewers.

Meta Data for the Data Warehouse. Allstate's data warehouse is the most popular application of their meta data and is certainly their MME's driving force. The data warehouse's end-user query tool is directly linked to the meta data in the MME. This allows Allstate's data warehouse users to view English names (from the logical data model in the MME) rather than the cryptic physical names that would normally appear. The end users can view the descriptions created during the logical data modeling. In addition, all of the business values discovered through the analysis of the codes analysts are passed in the meta data to the end-user query tool so that instead of a data warehouse user needing to view "03" as a code, he or she can see the value of "automobile."

Static Data Management. As Allstate collected domain information and documented the valid codes and values, the application areas within the company started to ask if they could leverage this meta data directly in their applications. This led Allstate to create the ability to request the generation of static data tables. A static data table is simply the valid codes and values for one or more domains deployed to a table so that an application may use the data.

Over the years, when speaking and writing about meta data management, we discussed the idea that a future MME architectural trend is the desire of corporations to implement "closed loop" functionality. A closed-loop MME architecture feeds meta data from the MME directly into a corporation's IT applications. At the time, I stated that this approach is a natural progression of MME architecture; however, I was not aware of any corporation that had implemented this advanced technique - that is, until now. Allstate's MME has implemented closed-loop functionality in their MME architecture. Allstate extended their MME's capabilities by implementing a universal code translation (UCT) table. This table is populated with multiple enumerated domains and all their associated collections. This allows an application to utilize this table to translate from its "language," or representation of the code, to any other "language." Typically, they'd translate into another application's specific representation of that code if they were doing a point to point, or the common Web front-end. This table is maintained by the enterprise data management group and replicated to all nine regional operating centers throughout Allstate. Once an application implements the UCT, it no longer needs to make any program changes when new codes are deployed. Allstate's team leader of codes analysts and meta data services, Pam Gardell, commented, "Centralizing our ability to manage code data through linking our MME directly into Allstate applications has reduced the tremendous costs of managing these codes and greatly increased our flexibility to changing those codes over time."

DTD and Schemas. As the meta data for common messages is captured in the MME, the meta data is also generated from the repository and imported by the message broker product used by Allstate. This common event description is the basis for Allstate's "common namespace." This is the format that a sending application needs to translate "to," and "from" which a receiving application must translate.

Viewers. The MME has a great deal of value as a reference tool for both application developers and business users alike. As a result, Allstate custom developed a generic Web browser-based tool, the "Metadata Viewer," which allows anyone in the enterprise to view the meta data in the MME. For example, if someone needs to know the "Accident Type" codes used in the claims system or vehicle classifications in property and casualty, the information is now readily available.

Because the scope of the meta data can be a bit overwhelming for a user browsing the information, application-specific "views" have been constructed and made available through the creation of custom viewers. Currently, Allstate has deployed a "CMS Viewer" that presents the same information as the Metadata Viewer but orients its display toward a user who is only interested in the code information from the MME.

In my final installment of this series on Allstate's world-class MME, I will discuss their MME's return on investment and future directions.

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