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Meta Data Certification: Does it Make Sense?

  Article published in DM Direct Special Report
May 6, 2003 Issue
  By R. Todd Stephens, Ph.D.

Todd Stephens is the newest DMReview.com online columnist. Look for his "Knowledge: The Essence of Meta Data" column which will appear the second Friday of each month beginning in May at www.DMReview.com.

Is your application or design meta data certified? Although most organizations do not have a meta data certification program, the question of certification is still valid. Business users want applications that operate in a predictable manner and adhere to principles of disclosure, architecture, access and security. The idea comes down to the basic principle of trust. Does the user community trust the application, architecture and the data? Before that question can be answered, we should have a basic understanding of the concept of trust.

The word trust has been active in human language throughout written history. Although the concept of trust is vital to our daily lives, most people have trouble defining trust in specific terms. Arceneaux defines trust as the dependence of sources such as reliability, genuineness, truthfulness, intent, competence and other similar factors.1 These factors can be applied to situations that either enable trust or destroy it. Bhattacharya, Devinney and Pillutla define trust as an expectancy of positive outcomes that can be received from another party.2 Trust can be based on the expected actions within an interaction characterized by uncertainty. Trust can be viewed as the perceived credibility and benevolence of the other party. The credibility of the party is related to the documentation or statements made during the course of a business relationship. Benevolence is the conceptualization that one party is genuinely concerned for the other's welfare and is motivated by seeking a joint gain in the relationship. 3 Couturier, Hacker and Hacker developed a conceptual model of trust that characterizes trust into the basic dimensions of capability, commitment and consistency. 4

Trust is an expectation of positive outcomes in a given situation and is generally considered good. Without going into great detail, users that trust the application, architecture and data will use the system to a greater extent, invest more time with the system and create value for the organization as a whole. If trust is important, how can we develop trust within the architecture community? Perhaps the current Internet environment holds the key. First, let's look at the impact of the WebTrust seal on the perceived trust of an organization. The objective of the WebTrust seal is to provide specific assurances relating to the business practices, transactional integrity and the information security of the user. Certified public accountants (CPAs) that are specifically licensed by the American Institute of Public Accountants (AICPA) perform WebTrust audits. The presence of the WebTrust logo has a positive impact on the perceived trustworthiness of the website. This is especially true when the user has an understanding of the use and purpose of the WebTrust seal. The WebTrust seal is really a symbolic symbol that represents the knowledge and disclosure of information. Other seals like BBBOnLine, TRUSTe and BBBOnLine Privacy, provide the same assurances to the customer. In the technology world, that should be the job of meta data.

Meta data is structured, semi-structured and unstructured data, which describes the characteristics of a resource or asset. Meta data is about knowledge, which is the ability to turn information and data into effective action. A cornerstone of our meta data certification program would be the "TrustMark," a seal displayed by architecture designs. The TrustMark would symbolized an adherence to established data principles and agree to comply with the meta data architecture defined by the corporate data architecture community. The principles could include:

  • Data will be represented in a logical model that enhances the business understanding of the data. This information describes what the data means.
  • Data will be cataloged in a physical as well as the logical method within the corporate meta data Repository. This information would include the information about the system, interface, Web service and many other meta data information categories.
  • The data transformation or loading process will be defined in mapping documents, transformation rules and business rules.
  • Data stewards will be named and identified for the application.
  • Access to the data and a process for engagement would be defined.
  • All meta data information would be disclosed and available to the organization via the web. This will include a cross reference for impact analysis.
  • All system and interface information would be captured in the common reference repository.
  • All components should be cataloged in the reuse or Web service repository.

As a business user, when you saw the Meta Data Certification Seal of Approval, you could be assured that the architecture would disclose:

  • What assets do we have?
  • What does the asset mean?
  • Where is the asset located?
  • How did it get there?
  • How do I gain access to the asset? 5

How does this information increase the level of trust of the architecture? Trust requires a personal assessment of risk that involves two decision-making dimensions. First, there is an individual comfort level of uncertainty. Meta data and the architecture can do very little to impact this dimension. The second dimension is the level of uncertainty a person perceives in a particular situation, application, data or architecture. Meta data can reduce the level of uncertainty by providing information upfront in order to establish a level of trust. Trust is generally acquired or developed over time. However, there is an element of level setting that can be done in establishing trust. In the retail world, stores invest a large amount of money to develop a trusted environment. Brick-and-mortar companies establish trust by providing personal service, one-on-one contact and creating an environment that communicates trust to the customer much in the same way banks go to great extents to build buildings that are plush and majestic. The online world invests in consistent navigation, professional design, reliability, privacy statements and many other design elements that can establish a level of credibility with the online user.

The IT community talks a lot about credibility. But, what is credibility? Simply put, credibility can be defined as believability. Credible people are believable people; credible information is believable information. In fact, some languages use the same word for these two English terms. The key components of credibility are trustworthiness and expertise. Without a doubt, data architecture has some of the best industry experts in the world. But in many ways, our ability to create trust with the business community, external organizations and even within our own walls comes into question. Meta data certification will not make or break the level of trust for an application or database, but it will establish a solid foundation that can be built upon in order to reach the ideal stage between the technology and business communities.


1. Arceneaux, C. (1994). "Trust: an exploration of its nature and significance." Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice, 3(1), 35-45.

2. Bhattacharya, R., Devinney, T., & Pillutla, M. (1998). "A formal model of trust based on outcomes." Academy of Management Review, 23(3), 459- 472.

3. Cannon, J., and Doney, P. (1997). "An examination of the nature of trust in the buyer-seller relationship." Journal of Marketing, 51, 35-51.

4. Couturier, L., Hacker, S., and Israel, J. (2000). "Building trust in key customer-supplier relationships." Retrieved December 07, 2001, from http://www.performancecenter.org/customer.html.

5. Tannenbaum, A. (2001). Metadata Solutions: Using Metamodels, Repositories, XML, and Enterprise Portals to Generate Information on Demand. Boston, MA: Addison Wesley Professional.


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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