Data, by itself, is just data. But put data in context—that’s when it becomes useful information. Robert Seiner, while speaking at the DATAVERSITY® Enterprise Data Governance Online Conference, said that what provides that context is metadata: “Data plus metadata equals the information that our organizations need to use to be successful.”
Seiner is President and Principal of KIK Consulting and Educational Services, the publisher of The Data Administration Newsletter (TDAN), and he specializes in Non-Invasive Data Governance™. “Non-invasive” describes how governance can be applied to assure non-threatening management of valuable data assets, said Seiner, where the goal is to be transparent, supportive, and collaborative. Just like data, metadata must be governed, and the Non-Invasive Approach can be just as useful in governing metadata.
Concepts of Non‐Invasive Data and Metadata Governance
Seiner began by presenting key concepts and definitions, as they apply to data and metadata:
- Data Governance “is the execution and enforcement of authority over the management of data and data-related assets.”
- Data Stewardship “is the formalization of accountability for the management of data and data-related assets.”
- Metadata “is recorded in IT tools and improves both business/technical understanding of data and data-related assets.”
- Non-Invasive Data Governance “is the practice of applying formal accountability and behavior through non-invasive roles and responsibilities to existing and/or new processes, to assure that the definition, production, and usage of data assures regulatory compliance, security, privacy, protection, and quality.”
- Non-Invasive Metadata Governance “is the practice of applying formal accountability and behavior through non-invasive roles and responsibilities to existing and/or new processes, to assure that the definition, production, and usage of metadata assures regulatory compliance, security, privacy, protection, and quality.”
Metadata plays a role in governing data by providing information about the data being governed. Managing data focuses on the definition, production, and usage of data and, similarly, managing metadata focuses on the definition, production, and usage of metadata. Like data stewards, metadata stewards are people who are held formally accountable for managing metadata. “Just like the data will not govern itself, metadata won’t govern itself,” he said, so governance must be in place around metadata resources, the same way governance must be around data resources.
To properly govern metadata, “The execution and enforcement of authority has to be in place.” A formal governance process establishes ways to execute and enforce authority over the management of data. These controls provide a process for escalation and resolution of issues and identify appropriate people within the organization to handle those issues.
The truth is, he said, “metadata is only as valuable as its quality”; therefore, its quality must be governed. To do that, Seiner recommends a focus on three areas: the quality of the definition, the production, and the use of the metadata. Identifying the people who define, produce, and use metadata as stewards and holding them accountable is a key tenet of the Non-Invasive Approach, and applying formal governance to those three areas will ensure success with your Data Governance program, he said.
“Regulatory compliance, security, privacy, protection, quality—whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve with your governance program, that’s what you will achieve.”
Metadata as a Valuable Data Resource
Set realistic expectations for Metadata Management by evaluating what metadata is available, what information is being collected, and what metadata is being requested. Then assess what is needed to collect that metadata and distribute it to the people in the organization who are going to be able to make the best use of that data.
He presented some categories of metadata and recommended an evaluation process that can provide an idea about what questions that different types of metadata can answer for the organization.
Categories of Metadata
- Data model metadata
- Database metadata
- Data movement metadata
- Business rule metadata
- Data Stewardship metadata
- Data access/Reporting/Analytical metadata
- Rationalization metadata
- Data Quality metadata
- Data protection metadata
Using data model metadata as an example, he illustrated some specific questions data model metadata might be able to answer:
- What models exist and where can they be found?
- Is there an enterprise model?
- Who created the models and for what purpose?
- Who is responsible for keeping models up to date?
- Is there any information in existing data models that will be useful to end users?
This process can help improve understanding of the data so it can be better used across the organization. An additional three questions about value of the evaluation process can provide further insight:
- Can my company answer these questions?
- What is it costing my company to answer these questions?
- What are the results when we are not able to answer these questions?
Seiner talked about roles and responsibilities and the concept of the metadata steward. “Metadata stewards are the people in the organization that are defining, producing, and using the metadata.” He used a pyramid diagram to show how various roles and support areas are interrelated. Typical roles in a Data Governance program have participation at the executive level, strategic level, tactical level, and operational level. Support functions for those roles within the organization may come from the legal department, working teams, IT, or other areas.
He then showed how the same roles and responsibilities inherent in the Data Governance process can also be used for metadata governance. “We want to make certain that we’re aligning what we’re doing with Data Governance with what we’re doing with Metadata Governance.”
Implementing Effective Metadata Governance Tools
Before purchasing Metadata Governance tools, look at existing tools and what information is currently being collected, and the capabilities of the tools that are not being used, then define technical, governance, and business selection criteria for any new tools. “The first thing that the vendors are going to ask you is, ‘What are your requirements?’” he said. Technical requirements may include abilities such as role representation, extensibility, change control, or versioning. Data Governance requirements range from managing Data Stewardship and master data rules to data lineage and the ability to log data issues.
The process of finding business requirements can be more challenging, because asking business users what metadata they need and how they need it will likely not be effective, he said. “That’s certainly going to make their eyes glass over and roll back in their head.” Instead, ask business users what information they need to know about the data they use so they can use that data efficiently and effectively. Having conversations about where those users go for data and what they use it for will help with this process.
Maximizing Metadata Resources with Accountability
Seiner outlined different recommended metadata leadership roles as well as differences between the responsibilities of those who define metadata, those who produce metadata, and those who use it. For example, the process of “defining” entails finding and recording what types of metadata will add the most value to the people in the organization. He recommends ensuring that governance roles are built into job descriptions, and that people filling those roles are given the time, tools, and knowledge needed to perform those functions. Lastly, he touched on the importance of protecting the investments made in metadata governance tools by ensuring there are resources allocated to acquire, maintain, update, support, and manage those tools.
Seiner says accountability is the key. “That’s really the bottom line when it comes to being non-invasive in our approach to governing our metadata.”
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Here is the video of the Enterprise Data Governance Online Presentation:
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