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Meta Data & Knowledge Management:
New Technology's Three-Phase Life Cycle

  Column published in DM Review Magazine
January 2002 Issue
  By David Marco

In information technology (IT) we consistently hear about new technology that will absolutely revolutionize the way we build systems. After watching many of these technologies come and go, I've noticed that all of them experience a three-phase life cycle. Understanding where a technology is in this life cycle helps in understanding how it may or may not help your company.

Phase 1: Cures Cancer and Solves Global Warming

When new technology debuts, it typically is accompanied by tremendous fanfare and hoopla. Let's look at extensible markup language (XML) as an example. XML entered Phase 1 approximately a year and half ago. During this time, we repeatedly heard the following claims: The majority of companies are building their systems using XML (two years ago most people didn't know what XML stood for), and XML will be the global meta data standard (anyone who reads this column realizes the inaccuracy of this statement). In fact, it was two years ago that I reviewed an individual's all-day class on XML. During the class, this person did not list one single issue or challenge was developing systems with XML technology. In fact, this individual described the tools that work with XML with the words "excellent performance, very mature and highly robust." My experience with new tools that utilize new technology is that they are much more likely to crash when you type in your login ID than they are to have excellent performance, be very mature and highly robust.

As I use XML in this example, please do not infer that I believe XML is not valuable new technology. On the contrary, I believe XML has a great deal of value to a corporation; however, it is not an IT cure-all; rather, it is one more piece to the IT puzzle that challenges all of our corporations.

Phase 2: The Most Useless Technology Ever Conceived

When new technology enters into Phase 2, it starts being portrayed as the most useless technology ever conceived. My example of a technology in Phase 2 is e- business. It was a little more than a year ago when we saw many people become "paper" millionaires and billionaires in the various "e" ventures, even though their companies were losing money at an amazing rate. What was even more fascinating is that for most of these companies, as their revenues increased, their expenses increased at an even faster pace. Many years ago I earned an MBA, and the first rule of MBA school is that if your expenses are increasing faster than your revenues, you cannot make up this difference with sales volume.

Fast-forward to today and we can see that e-business technology is clearly entrenched in Phase 2. Pick up any IT magazine and you will find plenty of articles talking about e-business failure. Even my book publisher told me that the best way to guarantee that a book does not sell is to put "e-business" in the title.

Phase 3: We See Where it Actually Fits Into the IT Puzzle

Once new technology leaves Phase 2, it enters into Phase 3. Phase 3 is where we see where it actually fits into the IT puzzle. I'll use data warehousing to illustrate a technology in Phase 3. Data warehousing stayed in Phase 1 for five to six years. During this time, we couldn't do any wrong. In late 1998/early 1999, data warehousing jumped into Phase 2. In Phase 2, article after article talked about the failure rate of data warehouses. For example, during data warehousing's Phase 2, I had a journalist request an interview for a data warehousing article that he was writing. He began the interview by saying that he wanted to hear about data warehouse failures. I asked him if he wanted to hear about the factors to avoid data warehouse failures. He replied, "No, I just want to hear about project failures." I asked him what kind of article he was writing. He replied that he was writing a piece concerning reasons corporations should not build data warehouses. I replied, "You'll struggle to find a more staunch advocate of data warehousing than myself, so you'll need to talk to someone else for your article. This interview is concluded." Clearly this individual was looking to write a negative piece on data warehousing.

Shortly after this period, data warehousing entered Phase 3. Now there are very few people who question what is and is not a data warehouse or the value that it provides.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
DW Basics and XML.

David Marco is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of enterprise architecture, data warehousing and business intelligence and is the world's foremost authority on meta data. He is the author of Universal Meta Data Models (Wiley, 2004) and Building and Managing the Meta Data Repository: A Full Life-Cycle Guide (Wiley, 2000). Marco has taught at the University of Chicago and DePaul University, and in 2004 he was selected to the prestigious Crain's Chicago Business "Top 40 Under 40."  He is the founder and president of Enterprise Warehousing Solutions, Inc., a GSA schedule and Chicago-headquartered strategic partner and systems integrator dedicated to providing companies and large government agencies with best-in-class business intelligence solutions using data warehousing and meta data repository technologies. He may be reached at (866) EWS-1100 or via e-mail at DMarco@EWSolutions.com.

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