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Lack of Metaprocess Information Impedes Ability to Collect Enterprise-Wide Metadata

Originally published September 13, 2012

Everybody recognizes the value of enterprise-wide metadata, and a lot of people talk about it. But, in truth, very few people do anything about it.

There are many reasons organizations don’t do anything about enterprise metadata. It is messy. It is ill defined. The vendors don’t really want anyone to have enterprise-wide metadata because it is not in their parochial best interest, and so forth. Pick your favorite reason. There are many of them, and they are all legitimate. There is, however, one really important reason why people don’t have enterprise-wide metadata: There is no metaprocess information out there.

Now this is probably the first time you have ever heard the word “metaprocess.” What is metaprocess information? Metaprocess information is the high level descriptive information about a process. It is the:

  • Name of the process,

  • The technology that houses the process,

  • The input to the process,

  • The output from the process,

  • The variables that are used in the algorithms found in the process, and so forth.
Metaprocess information is very much like the old HIPO (hierarchy plus input-process-output) information that preceded data flow diagrams and functional decompositions.

Just why is metaprocess information so important to enterprise metadata? Metaprocess information is a soul mate to metadata. Metaprocess information is to metadata like Roy Rogers is to Dale Evans. Or like Tarzan is to Jane. Like gasoline to the combustion engine. Like cream is to coffee. In a word, metaprocess information is a natural and wholly complementary partner to metadata.

If you are going to understand the flow of information in the corporation, it is absolutely mandatory that you have both metaprocess information as well as metadata. Trying to understand the flow of information in the systems of the corporation without understanding metaprocess information is like trying to watch TV without electricity. It is an essentially flawed process when only metadata is used to try to understand the flow of information in the corporation. In a word, it can’t be done, no matter how well and carefully the enterprise metadata has been defined.

Just where does the metaprocess information reside? It resides in the old legacy code. In COBOL. In assembler. In AS/400 modules. In PL/1. In technology that has not seen the light of day in decades. Once there were technicians that could be hired to read and go through the old code. Today those technicians have retired or have been promoted to management positions. In another generation, it won’t even be possible to find anyone who understands these older technologies. And by that time, SQL and C++ will be the old legacy technologies of the day. Consequently, it is no surprise that metaprocess information is so hard to come by.

But at the end of the day, all old legacy code is the form of text. Perhaps someone with a good, well-informed text editor could read and interpret all that old legacy code and automatically produce the metaprocess information that is needed. If there were tools like ETL for text, perhaps automatic production of metaprocess information would be possible.

Stay tuned.

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

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