Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Heavy Meta. The role of PIM in turning data into information.

It must be my philosophical bend but I love (almost) everything that is meta, in particular I love metaphysics. This allows me to define metadata in a slightly different fashion. In fact, the prefix meta denotes something that is beyond or transcends the physical contingency of an object.
Now what is data? David Loshin authoritatively defines data as “…a collection of raw value elements or facts used for calculating, reasoning, or measuring."[1] In other words, a piece of data represents an actual, physical, and existing entity.
For example, I am 1.75m tall. This is a fact expressed via numerical representation (and obviously can also be digitally coded). The adjective ‘tall’ provides important contextual information without it, the piece of data (1.75) would be meaningless. This is metadata. To further the example, if I add that I am second to my brother, I will start depicting a picture of a family of at least 4 people where my brother is the tallest and I am taller than my mum and dad. Wow, this is heavy meta!

So metadata is all about context. I can hear the pundits here making all sorts of distinctions between business and technical metadata. Granted, it is important. However, let’s focus on how to give meaning to data.

Andrew White and the value of information
Earlier this year, I exchanged few tweets with Andrew White, a very much respected MDM VP researcher at Gartner. Here the relevant tweets:

Here's a thought: information has no value until you perceive an outcome that changes. No change = no value. Why is this wrong?

@mdmcentral do you see the value as an intrinsic or extrinsic characteristic of information?

@mensetopera classic consultant: both, at different times, perhaps. If pushed to pick 1, I'd go for extrinsic. Always context wins-right?

@mdmcentral this reminds me of the 'fact-value distinction' raised by Hume...Interesting Andrew, I promise to think about it :-)

What is relevant here is the distinction between data and information. Data, as we have defined it, has no value (or meaning) unless something/someone put that data in context (for those who understand philosophy, data is in a potential mode waiting to be actualized by an external force). Human beings create meta-data to project a meaning onto data, turning this data into information. Granted, as Andrew observed in a different tweet, data can acquire different meanings over time. The point of all this is that metadata is your chance to turn data into information i.e. actionable knowledge.

PIM is business metadata friendly

This gives us a beautiful perspective to see the power of PIM. In fact, while there are innumerable ways to give meaning to data, it happens that from a product perspective, PIM is your man! After all, it’s got the “I” in it and not ‘D’ or ‘C’…if you get my drift J

To illustrate: my wife has been looking for a classic bike recently. We went online and we spent one hour educating ourselves on all the options, features, and specs jumping back and forth between manufacturer websites and reviews, looking at the best-sellers and comparing prices. We finally chose this one:

This was the only webshop that showed emotionally involving pictures and a description that was absolutely engaging:

For all the Eleanor Rigbys, Polythene Pams, Maggie Maes, Sexy Sadies, Julias, Lovely Ritas and Long Tall Sallys out there: this bike’s for you! A combination of timeless style and modern reliability, you’ll want to ride the Classique eight days a week!

You see, the same bike sold by others was shown with a bunch of boring attributes and specs (though necessary to finalise the purchase) that lacked the connection with the world my wife had built in her head.

What this anecdote teaches us is very simple. Unless you have a process and a technology that allows your team to turn raw product data from suppliers into branded, proprietary descriptions, images, and video, you will have little chance to win them over. This continuous process of enriching product data is an exercise in metadata. And PIM is your metadata assistant to turn the frog into a prince!

We have a theme song for this post. Enjoy!

[1] David Loshin, Business Intelligence, p.6
Bike webshop: http://www.progearbikes.com.au/Progear-Retro-ladies-classique-700c17-bright-red

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