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Meta Data and Data Administration:
Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid, Part 2

  Column published in DM Review Magazine
April 1999 Issue
  By David Marco

Many companies are realizing the invaluable role that the meta data repository plays in any successful data warehousing effort. This conclusion has occurred as corporations have discovered that a data warehouse implementation is a process and not a project. Typically an operational system is run and built as a project. It has a specific end date, and it rarely undergoes major functional changes once implemented. On the other hand, decision support systems (DSS) function as a process. Once the warehouse is initially built, the "real" work just begins. Once end users start uncovering the wealth of knowledge in their DSS systems they begin to ask for more and more functionality from their data warehouse. It is typical to see a data warehouse double in database size and in number of end users in the first 12 months of production. Without a carefully developed meta data repository the long-term growth of a data warehouse is greatly impeded.

This column is the second and concluding article on the top 10 mistakes to avoid when developing a meta data repository. In the March issue of DM Review we examined mistakes one through five. In this concluding installment we will present mistakes six through 10.

6. Having the data administration team report to the project manager of the DSS team. The head of the data administration team should report to the same manager as the head of the DSS team. When the data administrator reports to the DSS manager, quite often the meta data repository is forgotten or cast aside. The data administration team and the DSS team must work together, as they impact each other. A muddled data warehouse architecture will directly impact the quality of the meta data repository. Conversely, a poorly designed repository will greatly reduce the effectiveness of the DSS system.

7. Letting the meta data tool vendors manage your project. All too often companies will be convinced to allow the meta data integration tool vendor to manage and implement their repository project. This is a critical mistake because these vendors tend to be highly tool focused, as they rightfully should be. While the meta data integration tool is at the heart of the meta data process, it takes a lot more than a tool to create a fully functional repository. In addition, typical software vendor's consulting staffs are not true integrators; instead they are tool experts.

8. Failing to have an experienced meta data project manager/architect leading the project. An experienced data administrator keeps the vision of the project in concert with the real-world reality of meta data and decision support. In addition, the architecture of the repository must be scalable, robust and maintainable so that it can accommodate the expanding and changing DSS and meta data requirements. These fundamental challenges require a highly experienced, senior-level individual.

If a consultant is initially used to get the project up and running, it is imperative that the person be highly skilled at knowledge transfer and that an in-house employee has been assigned to shadow the consultant from the onset of the project. Be wary of consultants without real-world, hands-on experience. It's one thing to be able to write or speak about meta data; it's entirely something else to have the experience needed to navigate through the political quagmires and the knowledge of what it takes to physically build a meta data repository.

9. Trivializing the meta data repository effort. All to often companies do not realize the amount of work it takes to build a meta data repository. Everything you need to build a data warehouse you need to build a meta data repository. These tasks include defining business/technical requirements, data modeling, source system analysis, source data extraction/capture, source data transformation, data cleansing, data loading and end-user access. In addition, it is best to develop the meta data repository iteratively. You don't have to do everything all at once. However, when doing a project iteratively you must always have the end result in mind, as it will be your guiding wind.

It is important not to overlook the political challenges of the meta data effort. Politics cause the best-planned meta data and DSS projects to go astray. Remember cooperation will be needed from multiple IT and business teams to support the meta data effort.

10. The data administration team creates standards none of the supporting teams can follow. In order to capture much of the key business and technical meta data the data administration team will need to develop standards that both the DSS team and business users can easily follow. Quite often the data administration team makes the processes and procedures far too complex and tedious. When this occurs, the data administration team becomes viewed as a bottleneck to the DSS development process. Usually, it is only a matter of time before the data administration team is disbanded. Make sure to keep all processes and procedures simple and easy to follow. In addition, keep the amount of time needed to complete them to a minimum and do not neglect to create a feedback loop so other teams can let you know how you're doing.

Bonus Tip: Contractually obligate the meta data software vendor to provide a named architect.

As with all software, a meta data integration tool comes with a high learning curve. These learning curves have sunk more than one project. To greatly reduce your risk, have a person who understands how to architect with the specific meta data integration tool. On the other hand, be prepared to pay a hefty fee for this person. Top-of-the-line people are in high demand and more than make up for the investment in the amount of time and pain they can save. As a result, before the software is purchased, interview the proposed architect and make that person's time a condition of the sale.

Realize that these mistakes are all too common. If they can be avoided the likelyhood of success for your meta data and data warehousing effort increase dramatically.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
DW Administration, Mgmt., Performance.

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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