Handling Metadata in Your Business: Page 2

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Lawson: Yes. And do you want it coupled with the data or do you want it decoupled?
Levy: Usually you’ll hear with master data management the whole premise of decoupling - that part is where applications are coupled to the data.


In fact, you would like metadata to be coupled or attached to the data itself. Let’s go back to our apples example. You go buy a jar of applesauce. You want to know what the brand is. You want to know how much it weighs. And you want that right on the jar. You don’t want to go look someplace else. I mean, how annoying is it that you can’t look up the price of the item on the item?


The biggest challenge with metadata is that there’s not a good way to attach that information about the content to the content. That’s part of the rationale behind XML, by the way. Extensible markup language not only gives you the value, but it gives you all the details about the value. If you rip open a Web page and you see the HTML, if this is what you're referring to which is, “Okay, here’s the value five” and I have tags about what the font color is and all the other stuff that describes that five. You can also add other tags - where did it come from, who is responsible for it, security details and so forth.


The challenge is metadata tends to vary based upon the way it’s delivered.


Lawson: And does that create business problems? Or just technology issues?
Levy: Enormous. You know, the real issue is exacerbated by technology, it’s not created by technology.


Because data is not tangible - you can’t touch it, it’s not physical - it’s kind of hard to attach information to it. But the fact is, you see those problems all the time when someone fills out a form or prints a report: Where did this piece of paper come from? So, what happens, people as a business standard say, “You always have to put the date on the bottom left, the page number on the bottom right, who is responsible for it on there too.” So you have all of these business conventions. And people sometimes follow them, sometimes they don’t, but they can’t always be enforced.


Lawson: So what kind of business problems does it create? Can you give some examples?
Levy: Sure, sure. There’s a zillion of them. The first example is, so you want to attach a board to a tree outside. I need a screw. Okay, go get a drywall screw. But one screw is not like any other screw. You see a brass screw or a steel screw that won't rust. A drywall screw will. So you put the board on the tree and six months later, it rusts and the board falls off. Why? Because the information about what you were using wasn’t available.


From a more practical perspective, when it comes to data and metadata as opposed to metadata about objects, Verizon launched a marketing campaign where they advertised they would sell long distance to New Jersey. What they didn’t realize was those names weren’t approved to be sold to – it didn’t have the metadata. It's really more of a business rule, but all of those customers that opted into marketing, what they didn’t know was the regulatory approval wasn’t there. That's not data -- that's actually data about data.


There are other instances, and you see this more often than not, where someone comes to report and someone says, "Well, where did this come from?" It's fairly common in companies where people run reports from two different places, but there's no way of knowing that it was from two different places.


My favorite is when people want a cash report and an accrual report, but because it wasn’t labeled correctly, they don't know that they're both accurate, but they show two different numbers.

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Tags: IT manager, business intelligence, business intelligence software, information technology, metadata

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