Metadata? Or Business Metadata?
Unlocking the real value in your business information systems
What: What does the data represent? Revenue? A revenue category? Revenue from a specific product?
Where: Where in the business does the data apply to? Is it for the entire company? A division? A business unit? A shared function?
When: When does the data refer to? Last quarter? This month? Is it ten years old? Today’s data?
These whats, wheres, and whens are metadata: data about data. Of course, there are other types of metadata—like in your music playlist, but these additional types are typically a refinement of what the music contains, or the file format, or similar attributes. But in business, and especially in reporting structured data, it usually boils down to what, where, and when—at a bare minimum.
This is all quite straight forward and familiar to most businesses. Charts and tables in reports or dashboards generally represent two of these dimensions, and the chart itself often represents the third. For example, you can have a chart showing a business unit (where), while the chart axes show revenue (what) across time (when). Or the chart represents one reporting period (when), and the axes display revenue (what) per business unit (where). Whether or not you think of data this way, this is most likely how you use it.
Working with metadata
With the rise of analytics, many new dimensions have been added to data, and there are all sorts of awesome interactive visualizations that can display these extra metadata fields. But if you look closely, these tools generally refine the what. We only gain more granularity in what we are looking at. If we look at a fictitious shoe company, that we will creatively name Shoe Company, we can imagine that they have the what refined into product IDs, cost to manufacture, size, color, and all sorts of extra information—for each shoe they sell.
The other dimensions of where and when already offer additional levels of granularity– built in, by how the data is aggregated. We already know what week, month, and quarter a specific date belongs to. The where can be rolled up geographically, or through the organizational structure of the business. These are all basic reporting concepts.
Where, what, and when only tell us part of the story. What about the why? And what about the how—and the who? This is where business metadata enters the picture. Business metadata adds context to the data—that is either created or used by business people (the who). Business metadata exists all over the organization. Your employee policy and procedure manual are one example. If you are looking to improve your company’s performance on ‘involuntary turnover,’ your HR policies should define the why and how related to this type of turnover.
Working with business metadata
When it comes to technology there are two major approaches for dealing with business metadata. Traditional business intelligence solutions treat it as other metadata. It is often limited to an annotation in the data that might explain the reason behind a trend in a report. The alternatives to traditional solutions include portals, wikis, document management systems, and various collaboration tools (groupware).
The challenge is quite basic: how easily are successes, failures, risks, and warnings, escalated through the system, where they can be aligned with the structured data that impacts the business? Will it deliver its benefits? Is it cost effective? Will it be on time? And if everything goes pear shaped, how did the company arrive at its poorly-made decisions? If it was a success, what went right about it, and how can those positive lessons learned be shared across the organization? Using a typical ad-hoc collection of productivity tools makes reporting the real story a real challenge.
How can this work?
The Corporater Business Management Platform delivers business dashboards– and is designed to freely model, capture, and display your business metadata—as well as structured data. By doing so, you will have a complete story behind the reason for a trend—not a simple annotation. It brings the best of both worlds—in a highly flexible package.
Most project management solutions are excellent at helping to operationally manage projects, but they lack the ability to easily link projects to other aspects of your business. Why are you doing the project? How did you arrive at the decision to approve the project? What are the intended benefits the project will deliver? By modeling your business metadata, you can answer all these questions. This level of information is highly valuable. It lets you kill projects early—if they deliver no benefits. It lets you reprioritize those that over-deliver benefits. It lets you manage multiple projects in a portfolio view, while adding lenses to evaluate them based on cost, risk, and resources. Business metadata is required to give you this level of context.
In practice, most businesses already do this—or at least attempt to. They likely went through an elaborate process to analyze project needs and requirements. They likely have regular project status meetings that discuss cost, timelines, and risks. In many regards, working with business metadata is less about doing things differently as you manage your business, and more about capturing the data in a single system, so you can work with it and report on it in a holistic manner. Otherwise, you face the daunting task of manually linking all this business metadata together and tracking it. Or worse yet, you lose sight of it entirely, and miss the valuable insights that business metadata can deliver.
With a business management platform that focuses on business metadata, isn’t limited to projects. It can link together multiple and various management frameworks, such as governance, risk, compliance, performance management, reporting, projects, portfolios, processes, and more. And by easily mapping the who dimension, users have dynamic dashboards informing them of their responsibilities, and accountability becomes transparent. By mapping the why dimensions, employees are reminded of their purpose and goals, to align them with strategy. By including the how dimension employees are given a roadmap for success. And by presenting everything within a holistic platform, employees can automate the flow of business metadata, govern it with business rules, and to use it to make more effective decisions that deliver better business outcomes.