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Meta Data & Knowledge Management: Meta Data Silos, Part 2

by David Marco

In last month's column, I discussed the issue of disparate meta data repositories. In that column, I listed the four most common problems created by this phenomenon, and I discussed the first two issues in detail. In review, the four most common problems created by disparate repositories are: missing meta data relationships, repositories built by non-meta data professionals, costly implementation and maintenance, and poor technology selections. In this month's column, I will address the final two problems and discuss why they exist.

Costly Implementation and Maintenance

Business units and technical groups typically need meta data to properly run their business and IT systems. Therefore, these groups will not want to wait for their company to start building an enterprise-wide meta data repository, assuming that they even have such a project in their current IT plans. As a result, they build disparate meta data repository solutions that are designed to only handle one or two specific problems/challenges. If executive management knew the cost of these meta data repository point solutions, they would see that it far outweighs the cost of a truly sound enterprise-wide meta data management repository. This situation closely follows the path that many companies have taken with data warehousing. For example, the average company needlessly replicates its data warehousing efforts across many of their lines of business, as opposed to centralizing this function. It has been my experience that this approach typically increases the costs of data warehousing by more than 300 percent. These companies could provide all of the data warehousing functionality that they provide today at less than one-third of the cost if they managed their IT systems properly. The types of organizations that build point meta data solutions are traditionally concerned about the cost of building an enterprise-wide meta data repository. However, the cost of this enterprise-wide repository would pale in comparison to the costs of all of the disjointed meta data initiatives that are currently underway or in production (see Figure 1). Doing it right the first time is always less costly than doing it wrong and trying to fix it later.

Figure 1: Meta Data Management Costs

Repositories Built By Non- Meta Data Professionals

When government agencies and corporations have disparate meta data repositories, invariably most of these applications are being built by both consultants and employees that are not qualified to do so. This is highlighted by the fact many consulting and software firms are entering the meta data management field even though they have little to no experience in this area. Meta data professionals study their craft and have made it their full-time and, in many instances, lifework. You cannot take an operational systems person or even a data warehousing person and expect him/her to work in the meta data arena if this individual is lacking the proper knowledge.

A meta data repository is not a data warehouse or an operational system. Building the meta data repository incorrectly will only lead to having to rebuild it again in the future. In my January 2000 DM Review column, I reported that, "During the 1990s, corporations raced to build their decision support systems as quickly as they could ... in their zeal to do this too many of these organizations neglected to build the architecture necessary to grow their systems over time." We see today that data warehousing is becoming a standard practice in most companies and government agencies. Companies no longer ask if they should build a data warehouse; they ask how it should be built. Currently, the state of meta data repositories and meta data management looks very similar to that of data warehousing in the early 1990s. The companies that used proper data warehousing architecture and techniques have not been hampered by the high costs associated with disparate environments. Those companies that build sound enterprise-wide meta data repositories will have a distinct advantage over those corporations and agencies that travel down the disparate path.

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

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