Meta data. It's a term that can make even the most hardened IT manager howl with frustration. It's often the most quarrelsome issue in any large-scale IT project. No one would argue, however, that good meta data management is critical to the success of any IT project.

There are many definitions of meta data floating around, including the old, trite adage that meta data is "data about data." It is, but it's more than that. I like Gartner's definition best. Gartner defines meta data as "... an abstracted level of information regarding the characteristics of an artifact, such as its name, location, perceived importance, quality or value to the enterprise, and its relationships to other artifacts."1 What this says is that meta data defines the data you have and how it relates to other data. In other words, it's the road map for all the little data cars that run through your organization. Without it, they're lost, and so are you.

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