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Effects and Benefits of Managed Metadata

Metadata 5

Do you know the numerous benefits and the effect that having a managed metadata environment will bring to your organization?


Many organizations continue to struggle to understand the meaning and value of one of their most important and sustainable assets, data (and its companion, information).  Data are raw facts, presented without context.  Metadata is the “data about data,” the “context for the data,” the meaning for the facts.  Without metadata, raw data is not useable, so a primary benefit for the creation and management of metadata is the ability to use the data to create actionable information.

Key Terms in Metadata Management

Term Definition
Metadata Metadata is all the information data and knowledge possessed by an organization that shows business and technical users where to find information in data repositories.
Technical Metadata Technical Metadata is metadata describing technical aspects of IT systems, which designers and developers use to build and maintain them.  Examples of technical metadata include descriptions of database tables, columns, sizes, data types, database key attributes and indices and technical data transformation rules.
Business Metadata Business Metadata is metadata about the business terms, business processes and business rules. Business metadata provides the semantic layer between a company’s systems (operational and business intelligence) and their business users. It provides users a roadmap for navigating all the data in the enterprise by documenting what information is available and, when accessed, provides a context for interpreting the data. It is invaluable for making sound business decisions.
Managed Metadata Environment (MME) The managed metadata environment represents the architectural components, people and processes that are required to properly and systematically gather, retain and disseminate metadata throughout the enterprise.  (definition from “Building and Managing the Metadata Repository”, David Marco, J. Wiley, 2000)
Data Heritage Data heritage represents information about the original source of the data.  For example, a sales person types in the customer name in the Sales system or CUST_ID is a sequential number assigned by the Sales system.
Data Lineage Data lineage represents information about everything that has “happened” to the data.  Whether it was moved from one system to another, transformed, aggregated, etc., ETL (extraction, transformation, and load) tools can capture this metadata electronically.

Benefits of Managing Metadata

There are many business and technical benefits to managing metadata from an enterprise perspective, some that can be measured tangibly and others that can be classified as intangible benefits.  Ultimately, all the efforts to organize and manage metadata lead to improved knowledge about the enterprise’s data, allowing the operations and decisions to function with accurate data when needed.

Some common benefits of managing metadata include:

  • Simplify data discovery and data heritage with a record of content-rich data across the organization. Most companies have to manage increasingly complex systems in various locations and on varied platforms.  By managing metadata effectively, organizations can create an inventory of its data and learn about its transformation across the lifecycle, along with the variety of meaning and formats, and locations of each data object.
  • Reinforce consistency through data reuse and redundancy elimination, to increase productivity and reduce time needed for project implementation. A managed metadata environment (MME) or other method of managing metadata centrally serves as the most effective way to identify the appropriate data elements / objects needed for any use.  Doing so allows companies to retire unused storage, reducing costs, and reducing time that was spent in deciding among “possibly correct” variations of an attribute.
  • Retain staff knowledge that is lost when business rules, definitions and other forms of metadata are not documented. Often, business metadata remains only in the minds of certain employees.  When these individuals leave the company, this knowledge disappears with them.  Implementing an enterprise approach to managing metadata preserves this knowledge and reduces the risk of losing valuable contextual knowledge.
  • Increase confidence in the data delivered to business users. Tracking data lineage provides important context to business users.  Profiling data in source systems by business data stewards and IT staff can resolve data errors, which will result in accurate, reliable, high-quality data presented in reports, queries and analytics.
  • Improve IT performance in development, impact analysis, data integration, change management, etc… All of these enhancements will enable greater cooperation between business and IT, and ultimately lower total costs of any systems initiative.  Metadata helps IT understand what data exists, where it is located, and what it means, minimizing information complexity. The ability to assess the impact of potential changes based on improved knowledge of the data can help managers estimate project duration and resource costs more accurately.

Effects of Managed Metadata

Metadata serves as the connection between technology and business, between the business data and definitions, and the various ways they are represented in applications and databases.

Data Governance professionals are a primary contributor to and user of managed metadata, since metadata plays a key role in data governance by helping to automate the policies.  Data Governance establishes policies that achieve the goals of data transparency, accountability, auditability, predictability, and oversight by maintaining an inventory of data and its relationships.

Data stewards define business metadata based on the policies and standards established by the data governance professionals.  Therefore, metadata is critical for data stewards who are part of a data governance program.

IT organizations can help business stakeholders adapt to new and changing data requirements through managing metadata, especially technical metadata.  IT organizations can improve their responsiveness to the business by using a managed metadata environment (MME) to facilitate reuse of data integration capabilities and impact analysis to reduce the time needed to find affected applications in data lineage.


In the final analysis, every organization, regardless of size or industry, can realize the many benefits of having a managed metadata program and implementing a managed metadata environment.


Anne Marie Smith, Ph.D.

Anne Marie Smith, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of enterprise data management, data governance, data strategy, enterprise data architecture and data warehousing. Dr. Smith is a consultant and educator with over 30 years' experience. Author of numerous articles and Fellow of the Insurance Data Management Association (FIDM), and a Fellow of the Institute for Information Management (IIM), Dr. Smith is also a well-known speaker in her areas of expertise at conferences and symposia.

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