by Ian Rowlands
There’s a wonderful idea in particle physics called a “Grand Unified Theory." These theories unite the interaction of forces – and if ever one can be proved to be true then all these basic physical forces will be aspects of the same force. (OK, yes physic geeks, I’ve really over-simplified it, please forgive me.)
I’d like a Grand Unified Theory of metadata please! Since time immemorial (or at least, for a very long time) two information worlds have coexisted. “Data” and “Content” have been separated by an invisible, but impenetrable, barrier. I have been happy to see a few brave souls recently seeking to bridge the two by using Business Glossaries to link to items in both worlds to provide a two-dimensional view of interesting topics.
A new – and much bigger planet has appeared in the information cosmos. “Big Data” is suddenly filling the sky … and I fear another chasm opening between the information worlds. It’s time to tie everything together before the forces of chaos are reinforced and irrevocably strengthened.
Many people have, I think, toyed with ideas that fit with this notion. In my heart of hearts I think I believe (was that certain enough for you?) that the right way to do this is to define business ontology. The classes (“kinds of things”) would then be instanced as business terms, logical definitions and physical instantiations, with characteristics such as valid values being aspects of an extended model.
With this kind of notion in mind, data elements (or columns) and documents would be addressable as physical instantiations and it would be possible to take a completely rounded view of a class. In such an environment the idea the data is “Big” or “Little” (or whatever the opposite of “Big” is in this context) would be irrelevant.
“Well”, I hear you say, “that’s a wonderful speculative theory for a Friday afternoon after a couple of beers … but what’s the point?” The point is that there’s one thing our business community has been asking for, and another that it’s going to ask for fairly soon, and this kind of idea might help:
First, people keep asking for the ability to see “everything” related to a particular topic –“I want to see everything about my customer” or “I want to know all about that product” – and “everything” means data, content, and Big Data.
Second, people are going to be asking (actually, I’ve had one or two ask already) for one way to govern content, Big Data and conventional data. It is going to be seen as very silly if there is one way to mage all of this stuff – and a way that ties back to business understanding of information.
My ontology/aspects model might be a bit elaborate, and I’m certainly open to better offers, but a Grand Unified Theory of metadata would be the base for addressing those two requests – so what about it?