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Metadata: looking to the future

If there is to be cohesion across the distributed environment, metadata must be addressed and taken seriously.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

Today’s world of metadata is shaping up to be a much different, brighter world. Several reasons why metadata today is not destined to be the Thursday’s child that metadata has been in the past include:

  • The world of technology today is a distributed world. There are data marts, and data warehouses. There is the operational environment, and the exploration environment. There is a need for communication between the different components of the corporate information factory. If a data mart is to be fed data by a data warehouse, metadata becomes the common language for transmission of data. If a data warehouse is to be fed data by an operational system, then metadata becomes the medium of exchange, or at least the descriptor of the medium of exchange. If data is to be placed in the archival environment, metadata becomes a prominent part of the archival environment. In short, if there is to be cohesion across the distributed environment, metadata must be addressed and taken seriously. Put another way, if metadata does not take on a new and enhanced role, then each of the components of the distributed environment is just a single, unconnected, uncoordinated part of the environment. Without metadata, the data warehouse is singing rock and roll, the data mart is singing soul, the operational environment is singing country and western, and the exploration environment is singing gospel. It just sounds awful. It would be like Enya, Rod Stewart, Pat Boone, and Aretha Franklin all singing together but singing different songs and different styles. As talented as these singers are, it just wouldn’t sound very well.  
  • End-user awareness. Once there was a day when the end user knew nothing about metadata. Metadata was in the source code of programs and only database administrators could speak the strange language of metadata. But today the end user not only is aware of metadata, but uses metadata every day. The end user does analysis. This means the end user uses spreadsheets, business intelligence tools, and does drill-down processing. In a thousand ways the end user has taken over much of the actual processing, and in doing so the end user makes use of metadata as a normal course of business. No one has sat the end user down and said – “you are using metadata.” Instead the end user has naturally entered this transition without ever realizing that something different was occurring.
  • Tools. Today’s metadata tools are very different from yesterday’s metadata tools. Each vendor has its own set of metadata tools. Admittedly, each set of metadata tools are different. This difference is not surprising because for each vendor, metadata plays a slightly different role. Therefore, the metadata tools are different. But in one form or the other they are there. And all of them are as about as different from a data dictionary as a kumquat is different from a red wagon.

There are undoubtedly other factors affecting why metadata today has been elevated to a higher position of prominence. Not building today’s information systems architecture without a firm grip on metadata is like not building a large concrete structure without rebar. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that non-reinforced concrete is dangerous.

So what are some of the characteristics and traits for today’s newly emerging metadata? What’s new and different that is out there? These:

  • Technology that recognizes the difference between business metadata and technical metadata. These two forms of metadata are as different as Mohamed Ali and Madonna. Yet they have been classically grouped together.
  • Technology that allows the end user to see and use metadata interactively as part of the analytical process. In this case the end user can look at business metadata at the same time that the end user is doing analytical processing.
  • Technology that gathers metadata interactively. In this case there is no need to populate a central repository. There is no need to keep metadata in synch. When metadata is needed, it is retrieved.
  • Technology that builds and reinforces metadata as a standard part of distributed processing. In this case, there is separate metadata management for each part of the distributed environment.

Metadata is still a challenge. But instead of wandering around the swamps, as in the past, the swamps have been drained and roads have been built. There is a brighter future for everyone when it comes to metadata.

Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations. Bill can be reached at 303-681-6772.

Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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