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Knowledge: The Essence of Meta Data:
The Meta Data Support Model, Part 1

online columnist R. Todd Stephens, Ph.D.     Column published in DMReview.com
May 19, 2005
  By R. Todd Stephens, Ph.D.


How well are you doing in supporting your meta data environment? You have purchased the software, hired a staff and got a few customers on board. Now, you're asking yourself how will you keep moving forward to handle more data, more customers and more engagements while continuing to expand the value delivered by the repository collection. This month's article will review the different elements of a support model, especially how the model can be applied to an online environment. The first two areas will be discussed this month while the final three will be described next month. Figure 1 provides an image of the model described here.

Figure 1: Meta Data Support Model

Focusing on the middle section, the meta data support model asks five basic questions of the technology environment:

  • What meta data products and services are available to me?
  • How can I utilize these products and services within my environment?
  • Who can help me in case I need some professional guidance?
  • Are the meta data applications ready for enterprise usage?
  • How am I doing in comparison to others and against best practices?

What is Available?

The customer wants to know what products, services and documentation are available to them within the meta data environment. While we may know our meta data products and services hands down, the majority of customers don't. Former CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina said it wonderfully when she commented that, "HP makes three product announcements per day, can you name them? Our customers can't."


While there are many products in the world of meta data, the fundamental one is the repository. The repository defines how the meta data will be stored, presented and integrated into the corporate environment. The repository design will emerge from the various artifacts already produced which include the user requirements, research from the business case and the architectures described by the technical community. The repository should be based on solid design principles and subjected to usability studies. As described in the DMReview.com column (February 2005), the repository environment is not just the repository but an entire collection of applications:

  1. The asset portal which organizes the asset collection and provides a customized interface
  2. The traditional repository which includes the meta-model, acquisition, storage, refinement, and distribution of the meta data
  3. Business processes
  4. Application processes
  5. Customer support environment

Knowledge management, information architecture, content management, search engine technology and portalization are just a few of the evolutionary benefits of implementing meta data at the enterprise level. The meta data product line serves as the foundation from which processes and services can be built.


The natural progression of any organization is to move beyond the product and into value-add services. Services are what make the difference between doing the job and creating a "meta data" cause. Meta data is more than products and procedures; meta data is a philosophy that must be supported by a service-oriented staff and value offering. The Meta Data Services Group (notice the middle name) can offer many types of "best practices" including vocabulary management, domain standardization, term inventories, ontology development, etc. Value-add services can also be added to the portfolio such as PDF conversion, meta-tag standardization, subscriptions, reservations, inventory management, XML vocabulary management and records management methodologies.

Services are not always physical; many services are more subject matter expertise (SME) oriented. How do you ensure that content can be located within the corporate search engine, how do you manage assets within the technical communities or how do you enable reuse in a non-development oriented organization? Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX,), service-oriented architecture (SOA) and enterprise application integration (EAI) continue to ask the question of how enterprise ready are the services delivered by the Meta Data Services Group.


Artifacts include the associated documentation for the product or services defined in the prior section as well as user guides, documented best practices, templates, disaster recovery plans, backup strategy, etc. In many cases, the repository can hold the unstructured documentation that supports the engagement and not just the application as well as artifacts such as logical models, data mappings, vocabulary definitions and policies for data administration. Policies, standards, models and methodologies - based on the principles outlined by the architecture, govern the acquisition and use of data and information technology. Regular updates and communications are essential in order to keep the evolution of value moving forward.

How do I do that?

While the products and services focus on what's available, users also want to know how business functions can be executed within the tool environment. All users are different in their needs and knowledge background. Figure 1 provided a dotted line link between training and the artifact section since many of these elements are generally closely related.


Training allows us to move the methodology of meta data to each and every person within the organization. Online training provides many benefits over in-class type training programs. Online training can be accessed without time or resource constraints. The vast majority of online offerings are self-paced which allow users with different experiences take the same class. Although the initial cost of developing online training may be higher, the long term cost is much lower since users have unlimited access.

Providing reoccurring classes on a consistent schedule is important and can help rolling out the meta data message. Other options in training include train the trainer, developing a subject matter expert program, books, articles and other items of interest. All of which, simply support the program and expand the body of knowledge.


All users need help and even advanced users will push the technology into new areas that the average user may not. Assistance may come in the form of a help desk or a simple contact phone number that assures the customer that someone is available. Consulting services are also a form of assistance where the supplying organization implements, customizes or provides hands-on guidance to the customer. Consulting services is the ultimate service where organizations can not only demonstrate their expertise but build consistency in the base product. Meta data's consulting services bring the best practices, technologies and business models that help the organization to adapt quickly in a technology environment that is under rapid change.


Meta data organizations will have processes for both the producer and consumer users within the corporation. While the repository may get the majority of the attention in our environment, true value expands this beyond broker-type functionality. Data must be collected and loaded from the producer as well as utilized by the consumer. Quality cannot be a random event and can only be delivered by well-defined procedures. Consistency is the key and we want our support systems to enable a steady delivery of information and services from the Meta Data Services Group. Many people forget that the repository collection requires operations, application support and content management in order to run effectively. Ideally, we should try to move our processes to the online environment which enables the support group to be more efficient and effective in the long run.

Why should we focus time and attention on the support model of the Meta Data Services Group? Success in meta data isn't about deploying a software package or writing a white paper. Success comes from offering deep support and laying the foundation for an evolutionary value-add environment. This requires us to offer, not just products, but services and experiences as well. Deep support is about owning the customer experience and meta data's role within the enterprise environment.

More to come ...


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Meta Data.

R. Todd Stephens, Ph.D. is the director of Meta Data Services Group for the BellSouth Corporation, located in Atlanta, Georgia. He has more than 20 years of experience in information technology and speaks around the world on meta data, data architecture and information technology. Stephens recently earned his Ph.D. in information systems and has more than 70 publications in the academic, professional and patent arena. You can reach him via e-mail at Todd@rtodd.com or to learn more visit http://www.rtodd.com/.

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