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What’s the difference between master data and metadata?

Metadata tells you things about the data without giving any actual data.

Master data tells you everything about the data and includes metadata as a matter of form. There are many faces of metadata management.

Metadata is the way you get info about the data you have.

Master data is an application-level tool that stores info about specific concepts. It can be one of the applications of metadata management. 

Both are generally treated as IT’s headache but require collaboration between the business and IT, to provide functional data governance.

Common themes in master data

  • Master data is critical for operational and analytical business decision-making.
  • Master data is scattered throughout the enterprise.
  • Master data establishes a standard definition for business-critical data that is shared across the enterprise and collectively represents a “single source of truth.”

Gartner definition

Master data is the consistent and uniform set of identifiers and extended attributes that describes the core entities of the enterprise including customers, prospects, citizens, suppliers, sites, hierarchies and chart of accounts.

Philip Russom, TDWI, definition

Master data covers “consistent definitions of business entities (e.g., customer or product) and data about them across multiple IT systems and possibly beyond the enterprise to partnering businesses.

Technopedia definition

Master data refers to data units that are non-transactional, top-level and relational business entities or elements that are joinable in observable ways. A clear description of master data includes customer data items, like IDs. This data type is considered master data, versus quantitative data related to a single transaction, customer ID or other data (such as addresses and phone numbers), which are continuously used by a business to analyze customer behavior, establish contacts or drive high-level research.