To buy or not to buy a repository

More companies than ever are reducing IT costs and delivering a competitive business advantage by building successful meta data repositories. But firms building these repositories are faced with a fundamental question: Should they buy a meta data integration tool to help them build the repository or should they build a custom meta data repository?

This article addresses the four essential questions that will guide you through your build vs. buy decision. But before you can answer these questions, there are some up-front tasks that need to be completed.

First, make sure to define the specific business and technical requirements of your meta data repository. This is best accomplished by completing a meta data repository project scope document. Do not look at tools until you have completed creating this document.

An important component of the project scope document is the identification of sources of meta data you will need to integrate into your meta data repository. It is important to note that not all meta data needs to be stored in the central meta data repository.

Once you have identified the sources of meta data you'll bring into the centralized meta data repository, you'll need to decide how frequently you will extract meta data from these sources.

Finally, you must gauge your corporate ''climate'': Does your firm always custom-build its applications or do you rely on tools and pre-packaged apps?

When talking about purchasing a meta data integration tool, it is important to understand what you are buying. All of these tools come with their own meta model. They also typically come with pre-built impact analyses that pull meta data from the base meta model. A meta data integration tool also has the ability to bring in specific sources of meta data and to integrate them into a meta data repository. As these sources change over time, the meta data tool vendor will enhance their tool to accommodate these changes. Do not underestimate the task of keeping repository integration processes up-to-date with changes that will occur to your meta data sources.

Now that these up-front tasks have been completed, it is time to ask yourself the following build vs. buy questions:

* Can your company afford to spend $350K to $750K on software? The cost of purchasing a high-end meta data integration tool typically starts at $400,000, and can go as high as $850,000. Annual maintenance fees can run anywhere from 15% to 20% of the original purchase price of the tool. If your company cannot afford this type of purchase or will not allocate this amount of funds for software, then you should consider a custom-built or lower cost meta data integration tool.

* Can you assign dedicated resources to become knowledgeable about the tool? If you do not have the resources to allocate and do not have the funds to get these resources from a vendor, then you should not purchase a tool. If you do not have dedicated resources, then you need to have a very limited project scope.

* Is there a tool that certifies enough of your key meta data sources? When a meta data integration tool vendor states that its tool certifies a specific source of meta data, it means the tool has an existing process that pulls meta data from this source and loads it into the meta model. Certified sources of meta data typically do not require a great deal of effort to load into the repository.

* Will your firm save enough in development costs (current and future) to justify the tool's purchase? By understanding how many of your sources of meta data the tool certifies, you can decide whether it will be cost-effective to purchase. If the tool does not certify a sufficient number of meta data sources to justify the cost of the tool, then you will most likely do a custom build. If you are starting your project small and want to grow it, then a tool can still be a good choice.

About the Author

David Marco is the author of Building and Managing the Meta Data Repository: A Full Life-Cycle Guide from John Wiley & Sons. He is founder and president of Enterprise Warehousing Solutions Inc. (EWS), a Chicago-based system integrator. He can be reached at 708-233-6330 or via E-mail at


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