Mining and Refining:Metadata Exploitation to Increase the Real Value of Information
By Ian Rowlands
According to Peter Drucker’s seminal work, Management (1973), “…the center of gravity of the work force is shifting from the manual worker to the knowledge worker.” This has been a trajectory of business for several decades now. Businesses today ride on the back of the meaningful information they can produce, find or cull from their existing resources. We now live in an “information economy” where the use of information is no longer just a tool for business – it is a critical strategy. How businesses approach this critical strategy can make the difference between ultimate success or failure. Productivity is the central issue.
Returning to Drucker’s keen insight into the rise of the knowledge worker, he explains that: “The most valuable assets of a 21st century company, whether business or nonbusiness will be its knowledge workers and their productivity” (Management Challenges for the 21st Century, 1999). Just as the productivity of manual workers can be measured by output and quality, so can the productivity of knowledge workers be measured by the volume and value of the information these workers can find, process and use.
The IT/Business Disconnect
Traditionally the job of increasing the volume and value of information handled by knowledge workers has fallen at the feet of information technology (IT) professionals who provide the tools to increase productivity. Today huge sums of money and great efforts are expended to increase the productivity of the knowledge workers who fuel the global economy. Given this scenario it might seem logical at first to assume that by investing more in IT and information management, knowledge workers – and business – would expect to have a directly parallel return on this investment.
However this is not the case. In fact, many times such investments result in a real discrepancy between an expected return and an actual return.
As Strassman points out in The Squandered Computer, “…high or low spending levels for computers can be associated with both inferior and superior results” (1997). Searching deeper into this situation it becomes clear that even when IT investments work out to be profitable, they very often fall short of expectations or predictions of success.
Figure 1: The Expectation Gap Exposed: The substantial expectation gap in IT spending for business.
Strassman’s observation points to a conceptual gap between IT and business that must be bridged for businesses to continue to succeed. The return on investment in information technology can be measured in terms of the value of the information. For today’s knowledge workers the value of information is measured by the degree to which they understand the full context of critical information. This allows these workers to determine what is and is not useful information, enabling portfolio management across the enterprise.
Context of valuable information involves three main qualities:
- Findability (Where is it?)
- Comprehension (What is it?)
- Perception (What does it mean to me?)
Knowing the appropriate context for information supports the effective use of information assets within a business, which logically leads to an optimized return on investment in technology. In the information economy raw data is just noise while data and information in the proper context translates to a strategic advantage. Today’s knowledge workers must consider the real value of their knowledge in a holistic and three-dimensional way to realize a return on their investment.
Figure 2: The Evolution of Metadata: As the use of metadata has evolved, the semantic and syntactic richness of the metadata itself has necessarily increased. Commensurate with this evolution the context of the metadata has moved from the purely technical IT center to the more business-oriented boundaries of the enterprise.
A New Approach
Over the past decades many businesses have relied on metadata repositories to provide them with efficient access to vast warehouses of important data. The classic use of a metadata repository is as a kind of clearing house or ‘bridge’ between a variety of data from databases, catalogs, analyzers and tools and administration, query and navigation interfaces. Implemented properly, metadata repositories can yield impressive results. One company, The Workers Compensation Board of Alberta, Canada, effectively used a metadata repository to build an “Information Knowledge Library” marked a definite and increasing return on investment.
- In 2004 the company enjoyed a 140% return on its metadata business technology investment,
- In 2005 the company enjoyed a 150% return on its metadata business technology investment, and
- In 2006 the company enjoyed a 220% return on its metadata business technology investment.
Clearly this kind of return shows a departure from Strassman’s model and suggests a solution to the issue of return on IT investment for business in a knowledge-worker-based economy. It’s not just about the cost or level of IT, but also the type of management implemented and the choice of technology. Properly implemented metadata repositories show tremendous promise in streamlining application development while also improving the overall delivery of information within an enterprise.
Metadata management is an extremely powerful ally in the effort to maintain and find context for data and information within an enterprise. In various forms metadata management can serve purposes that fall under development, governance and operations management roles. So powerful, in fact that, as a tool, the exploitation of metadata for business knowledge management should be strongly considered as a strategic approach when applying new management models to both IT and business management. Recent trends in how knowledge workers use metadata drive this point home.
Business Service Management and the Metadata Repository as CMDB
Currently metadata managers and those in the business of providing IT services to business are spearheading a shift in the way metadata is handled; from passive metadata management to active metadata exploitation. Rather than simply managing and keeping metadata for use as needed, metadata exploitation treats the metadata as a real business asset to be mined, contextualized and exploited for strategic advantage. This approach also fits neatly into another successful market trend for both business and IT management – business service management.
Figure 3: Context Builds Valuable Information: Metadata becomes much more valuable, useful and powerful if it is managed in a holistic way integrating
business and IT.
According to Forrester, business service management “dynamically links business-focused IT services to the underlying IT infrastructure” (BSM Is Coming Of Age: Time To Define What It Is, 2006). This linking of IT to business services is often accomplished through the use of a configuration management database (CMDB) that keeps track of the context of configuration items within an enterprise.
At this point, it becomes evident that a metadata repository and a CMDB have a lot in common. In fact it has been clear for some time that these two entities are essentially different forms of the same tool to be used by the knowledge worker. In Architecture and Patterns for Service Management, Resource Planning and Governance: Making Shoes for the Cobbler’s Children, Charles T. Betz was one of the first to draw attention to the issue:
“As I was starting to make sense of what metadata management might mean for an integration competency center, an enterprise architect approached me and asked, “What’s the difference between an ITIL® configuration management database and a metadata repository?” I pondered this for some time, and then saw (General Motors CIO) Ralph Szygenda’s call for ‘ERP for IT.’ That gave me the answer—there is no essential difference. They are two attempts at answering the same problems of enterprise IT.”
Using a metadata repository as a CMDB opens a new world for business and IT management, and allows for a holistic view of business and IT. With the power of a metadata-based CMDB, service-delivery elements of business, although increasingly complex, can become manageable. Using a metadata model in this way also greatly increases the opportunities for businesses to relate what may be disparate business service data into meaningful intelligence to monitor, report and manage business and IT from a proactive and predictive level.
The use of a metadata-based CMDB for business service management offer substantial benefits for the business enabling, faster, more efficient and simply better abilities for:
- Searching and discovery of information
- Sharing and interoperability of information
- Repurposing and reuse of information
- Managing and maintenance of information
- Managing the rights for information access
- Preserving information and audit trails for critical data
In today’s economy of the knowledge worker, success will not be dependent on the size of an IT budget or the amount of information an organization can bring together. Rather, success will depend on how well an organization can access meaningful data in context, and how flexibly they can mold that data into a model of good business service management.
Future articles will focus on:
- The vanishing user interface
- Dealing with ‘MetaChaos’
- The melding of operations and management
About the Author
Ian Rowland is a Senior Director of Product Management at ASG Software Solutions. He is responsible for the definition of ASG’s enterprise metadata repositories, ASG-Rochade ™ and ASG-Manager ™ Products, for the creation and implementation of product launch and delivery plans and for creation and management of partner relationships. Originally from the U.K., Rowlands is a standing member of the British Computer Society and a Chartered I.T. Professional.