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The DAMA DMBoK and Amorphous Metadata

DAMA Wheel copyright CC Dama International
I feel as though I have discovered a long hidden treasure. I must have been under a rock in the wrong corner of the Internet. Somehow I missed it.

My discovery is the DAMA-DMBoK. An abbreviation to savour. ‘The DAMA Guide to the Data Management Body of Knowledge’ published by the Data Management Association dama.org.

It is THE big book on data management. In a way, it contains nothing startlingly new. But it is so well ordered, well written, well thought through to consistency that it feels like a treasure.

With my memory ageing, I use Evernote to remember everything. It turns out that there is a snippet from Wikipedia in my Evernote collection, saved almost three years ago, listing the subjects in the ‘DAMA DMBOK Framework’. Apparently it was saved and forgotten. I am trying to remember everything, but this got lost in memory. An instance of failed personal data management.

There are some lovely concise explanations setting the context in the introduction:

“Data is the foundation of information, knowledge, and ultimately, wisdom and informed action. Is data truth? Not necessarily! Data can be inaccurate, incomplete, out of date, and misunderstood. For centuries, philosophers have asked, “What is truth?”, and the answer remains elusive. On a practical level, truth is, to some extent, information of the highest quality - data that is available, relevant, complete, accurate, consistent, timely, usable, meaningful, and understood. Organisations that recognise the value of data can take concrete, proactive steps to increase the quality of data and information.”


Explaining data life cycle:

“Like any asset, data has a lifecycle, and to manage data assets, organisations manage the data lifecycle. Data is created or acquired, stored and maintained, used, and eventually destroyed. In the course of its life, data may be extracted, exported, imported, migrated, validated, edited, updated, cleansed, transformed, converted, integrated, segregated, aggregated, referenced, reviewed, reported, analysed, mined, backed up, recovered, archived, and retrieved before eventually being deleted.”


What a brilliant list! But like things lost in memory:

“Data has value only when it is actually used, or can be useful in the future. All data lifecycle stages have associated costs and risks, but only the “use” stage adds business value.”


And there is a beautifully written page or two introducing the concept of “architecture”.

With such treasures in the introduction, I was eager to get on into the details and in most chapters I was not disappointed. But I did find a serious flaw in my newfound gem.

I read once, "'Metadata' is a 'what are you talking about' notion to most business people, so please do not call it that." (1) I recognise that sentiment. Yet I feel that metadata is an essential part of the foundations of Data Management. I therefore expect an association of Data Management professionals to come up with a definition of "metadata" and a description of metadata management processes that are sparkling in their clarity and ready to convince any business manager that this is something he needs. Sad to say, this is where I found the flaw in my gem.

The DMBoK chapter on metadata management goes off the rails. It starts out with the basic definition of metadata as data about data but in its description of the metadata management processes the scope gets stretched to include so many different things that "metadata" becomes a synonym for "stuff".

Chris Bradley has been doing a series of webinars about DAMA DMBoK on the BrightTALK platform. In his webinar about Metadata Management he reflects the DAMA approach using a classification of metadata into “real world” things as opposed to “IT world metadata” on one axis and “data related metadata” and "processes related metadata" on the other axis. There is so much in there I can't escape the conclusion that "metadata" = "stuff".

So I've been brainstorming with myself and anyone I can find to listen to my ravings. Most people say, "'Metdata'? What are you talking about?”. Maybe some think, “’Metadata’, isn’t that what government agencies secretly collect about all our communications? Dangerous. Keep away.” Yet I hope to post some coherent thoughts here shortly.

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(1) Thomas Frisendal, “Design Thinking Business Analysis"
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