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Metadata: buzzword or key to driving a business?
8 pointers in how to start with effective metadata managementJelle Van der Linden
When talking about Enterprise Content Management solutions or projects, we often hear people going on and on about the importance of metadata. But how important is it and how can it create added value for you and your company?
A definition of Metadata
Forrester Research defines metadata as “the information that describes or provides context for data, content, business processes, services, business rules and policies, … that support an organisation’s information system.” Wikipedia states that it is a set of data that describes and gives information about other data. In my opinion, the most important aspect is that it gives your data a frame of reference.
In Enterprise Content Management environments, there are several relevant types of metadata:
- Technical: provides technical information about the data
- Business: supplies the business context around data
- Operational: furnishes information about the use of the data
- Structural: gives insight into the design and specification of data structures such as file type
- Process: is all about the process and workflow the data has to travel through
- Administrative: helps to manage information such as version number
Does every document or content type need the same metadata? Does a document need all the metadata you can think of? Do you have to oblige your users to enter all when uploading a document?
I think we can all agree that the common answer to these questions is NO. Key to successful metadata implementation is proper management – the frame of reference giving data its context and meaning.
Metadata explained in three examples
- If you try to implement the same metadata to each content type, you end up with two possible scenarios. Either you add all possible information to each content type and realize that you have to leave some field empty, or you only select the metadata types that can be used for every content type and then you’ll see that some important information doesn’t get captured. Each content type, document type, … should have it’s own set, providing you with the information that is valuable for your company.
- If you try to implement all metadata you can think of, you’ll have a hell of a job gathering all the information about that document. But the big question is: what will you do with this information? Metadata without context is not useful and will cause you more work without creating added value.
- If you oblige your users to enter everything manually, you’ll create a hassle for the users and they will avoid using the ECM platform, which will probably lead to data scattering. Metadata should be automatically subtracted and added by the ECM solution as much as possible. Keep the threshold as low as possible for your users to increase the engagement to your ECM platform.
What’s the ultimate goal of using Metadata?
The goal should be to deliver trustworthy, timely and relevant information in order to support informed business decisions. Besides facilitating the search functionalities, effectively governed metadata can provide a view into the flow of data, clarify data, perform an impact analysis or an audit trail for compliance, reveal bottlenecks in processes, … Effective management begins with a definition of its strategy and goals as well as the scope of its success.
8 pointers on how to start with effective metadata management:
- Think big, start small, scale fast.
- Visualize the metadata
you are going to track as well as the goal.
- Set a focused and reasonable scope.
Data governance efforts fail because they attempted to accomplish too much at once.
- Pick a high-value, low-complexity target
as your pilot.
- Investigate the possibilities of automatic extraction from your current ECM platform.
If none exist: consider migrating to another platform.
- Tie metadata management to a business initiative.
- Enable the management to visualize the process or workflow of the data through its lifecycle.
- Limit the number of metadata elements to a minimum, though define most of the fields as mandatory. Optional data fields tend to be disregarded.
So is metadata just a buzzword? Definitely not. Is it a key to driving your business? Maybe. But only if governed well throughout the entire organization.
Interested in knowing more? We’re just a phone call away.
Blog written by Jelle Van der Linden
Business Unit Manager COIN (ACA IT-Solutions)