The lords of technology have given
us XML, and it is good. So can we all rest now? Something tells me
that the considerable charms of XML, which Bruce Silver describes
in our cover story, aren't going to lead to more sleep and time for
hobbies. Information managers comforted by XML's data structuring
potential shouldn't swear off caffeine just yet.
The word "structured" has always
implied a solved problem, like my 10-year-old son's room when it's
all cleaned up. Within a day, he's got everything back out where he
really wants things, which is all over his floor. Ask him to keep
his room clean for some extended period and he'll just spread his
toys, books and clay creations elsewhere in the house.
I should borrow XML's selling
points to convince my son that a structured approach to his
"content" will help him find things faster, reuse stuff more easily
and comply with future parental requests. The advances McDonald's
has made with content access and reuse, as told by Michael Voelker
in his companion article, would convince anyone of the value of
structure - perhaps even my son if I offered to tell him about it
over a Big Mac and fries.
The key to success at McDonald's
has been the establishment of a repository that "contains the
single point of truth," in the words of Steve Wilson, the company's
senior director of global Web communications. The structured data
world is also pointing dollars and development toward hubs where
users and applications can gain single views of customers, products
and other objects of interest. Data administrators have actually
been after a "single view" for decades. It's a tough problem that
grows more complex as users depend not only on data but also the
views, dimensions and aggregations derived from the data.
The latest permutation is master
data management (MDM), which Voelker discusses with respect to
content. Business intelligence and data integration vendors have
entered this fray. Their major aim is to help customers keep their
data architecture stable amid constant business change. Kalido, for
example, emerged out of Royal Dutch/Shell Group in large part
because the founders saw an opportunity to do some business fixing
MDM issues at companies with similarly huge numbers of product
instances that weren't matching up. The data quality problems are
expensive and eventually eat away at the "structure" so hard won
through adherence to SQL and the relational model.
MDM demand was a motivator in IBM's
acquisition of Ascential Software. Oracle is active, and SAP's MDM
is integrated with SAP Business Intelligence. But perhaps the most
interesting entry is from a BI vendor: Hyperion MDM Server, the
acquired product of Razza Solutions. Customers are applying MDM
Server to a rather unheralded BI problem: reporting hierarchies.
"Verizon has 30,000 cost centers; MDM is critical to making sure
that managers up and down the line have access to the right data,
views and dimensions in their reports," according to VP of
marketing Rich Clayton. Many large organizations have entire
departments dedicated to managing such hierarchies. They'd love to
automate them out of existence.
Performance management objectives
and regulatory compliance demands put pressure on companies to
reduce the cost and complexity of producing and managing all the
byproducts of structured data. This is a major impediment to BI
growth. MDM success could open doors for companies to apply BI
tools to lines of business that are now lost to data confusion.
XML is an exciting advance for
content management. But, judging from what's evolved on the
"structured" data side, I wouldn't relax. The real excitement may
be just beginning.