The Metadata Archipelago

In October 2007, Gartner identified Metadata Management as one of the “Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2008”:

Through 2010, organizations implementing both customer data integration and product integration and product information management will link these master data management initiatives as part of an overall enterprise information management (EIM) strategy. Metadata management is a critical part of a company’s information infrastructure. It enables optimization, abstraction and semantic reconciliation of metadata to support reuse, consistency, integrity and shareability. Metadata management also extends into SOA projects with service registries and application development repositories. Metadata also plays a role in operations management with CMDB initiatives.

Does your metadata look like this?

(c) 2020 Microsoft Corporation, Earthstar Geographics SIO, (c) 2020 TomTom (c) HERE

Look at these four members of the Society Islands. Once upon a time, they were completely separated from each other. Over time, the reefs have built up around them, and some of the reefs have joined up. Given more time, could more islands become part of the connected archipelago?

Many years ago I was investigating the usage of modelling tools at an organisation, and decide to draw a simple data model to help me categorise the kinds of ‘stuff’ (call it Metadata if you prefer) we needed to record and manage. I decided to refer to my model as The Metadata Archipelago.

Here’s a simplified view of the ‘stuff’ we could record about information.

If we zoom out a bit, and think about the other ‘stuff’ that our Information ‘stuff’ is connected to, it might look like this.

In Data Modelling Tool Evaluation we examine an organisation’s choice of modelling tools from the perspective of the Zachman Enterprise Architecture framework. If we take the same three tools and superimpose the scope of each tool on our metadata archipelago we might get the result shown below. There isn’t any overlap between the tools, even though I would expect to see some overlap, such as the ‘Business Process’ tool recognising the Information managed by the processes.

To be honest, the chances are that the data modelling tool only supports a small part of the ‘stuff’ shown in the first diagram, only part of the ‘stuff’ we need to know about Information.

Why is this important?

Most organisations considering the purchase of a data modelling tool (or any modelling tool for that matter) only consider of these islands of ‘stuff’ to be in scope, and they don’t consider how they are going to handle the connections between them. That’s like choosing a software package for Banking that doesn’t know what a Customer is, and has no way of connecting to a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).