Evaluating Meta Data Tools

By David Marco

Today with so much emphasis being placed on empowering the business users to do more with less Information Technology (IT) help and enabling the IT organization to produce better results faster, it is no surprise that meta data has become one of the hottest issues of the day. In order to leverage all of the meta data from the disparate sources that exists in your organization, you need a way to gather it into a central location (repository). This is where meta data integration tools come in to the picture. Utilizing these tools you can integrate your enterprise meta data in to the repository and make it available to all the different user groups (i.e., business, IT, executive) in your company. But how do you determine which tool is right for your organization. There are a wide variety of tools on the market that will claim to solve all of your meta data problems. But as we all know the vendor hype is often not reality. This article will help you to objectively evaluate these tools and determine which one is right for you.

Meta Data Sources

Within any organization there are going to be different “sources” of meta data. Meta data integration tools can integrate meta data from three broad categories of meta data sources, each of which requires varying levels of integration complexity. It is important to identify all of the various sources of meta data that you need to integrate into the repository. Table 1 lists various meta data integration tool vendors.

Table 1: Meta Data Integration Tool Vendors


The three classifications of meta data sources are certified, generic, and non-supported sources1. A certified source is a source that the meta data integration tool can directly read, properly interpret, and load into the correct attributes of the meta model without changing the model. An example of a certified source is Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) tool like Erwin. Most meta data integration tools are certified for several vendor tools. A Generic source is a source in a common format (i.e., tab delimited, space delimited, or comma delimited) that the tool can read, cannot interpret, and may require a meta model change. Most tools support one or more generic meta data sources. An example of a generic meta data source is data that is stored in databases and spreadsheets. The last source of meta data is the non-supported source which is neither certified nor generic and may require extensive analysis to produce an in house solution to access this meta data. The non-supported meta data source can not be read nor interpreted by the meta data integration tool. Once you have classified the meta data sources available you will be able to quickly determine the complexity of your project and if the tools you’re evaluating support all of your sources. Table 2 below lists some of the more common meta data sources and how they are typically classified (your specific implementation may differ).

Table 2: Example Meta Data Sources

Vendor Tool Interview Process

After determining your requirements you are ready to begin the vendor tool interview process. By doing some research using product information that is readily available on the Internet and in industry magazines and journals you can narrow the field of potential vendors and products to those vendors that have tools that meet your general criteria. Once you’ve prepared a preliminary list of vendors, you’re ready to start interviewing and evaluating. Try to have the vendor come on-site and use your existing meta data sources rather then the pre-canned demos the vendor has.

To objectively look at all of the criteria you should use a weighted vendor checklist to perform a tool analysis. The vendor checklist allows you to come up with a numerical score based on the criteria you specify. Table 4 below is a small excerpt of a completed checklist outlining the kinds of questions that need to be answered when evaluating meta data tools. By using an in-depth checklist you be able to get an unbiased view of how the tool fits your company’s’ needs as well as the tools strengths and weaknesses.

Table 3: Excerpt from the complete weighted vendor checklist.


Once the checklist is complete you can look at the scores to see just how well or how poorly a product did. The higher the score the better that tools fits your needs. Always remember that every company has it’s own unique meta data requirements and that nothing is perfect; be prepared to compromise along the way, but if you keep your requirements and priorities clearly in mind — and manage to ignore the bells and whistles that vendors will wave in front of you — you can’t go wrong.

This article is adapted from “Building and Managing the Meta Data Repository” (Wiley), which contains the complete weighted checklist.

1 Marco, David. “Meta Data Integration: Fitting Square Pegs in Round Holes”, DM Review. September, 1998. P. 26.

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