By Mika Javanainen
Those who have been in IT for more than a few years know the concept of metadata isn’t new. However, it has long been a lightning rod for misinterpretation, which has undermined its significance and fueled misunderstandings about the impact it can have on enterprise content management (ECM) and other IT disciplines. Thus, many organizations have failed to realize the full potential of metadata and the myriad of benefits it has to offer—from faster more accurate navigation and search to highly improved management and automation of workflows.
Luckily, in our increasingly digital world, we are finally getting to the point where people understand and appreciate the importance of metadata. According to Gartner’s How Metadata Improves Business Opportunities and Threats report, “metadata unlocks the value of data … failure to manage it properly will hamper critical activities such as information management, business process management and service-oriented architecture (SOA) initiatives.”
With that in mind, it is time to address the misconceptions about metadata directly. Following are five of the most common myths about metadata that need debunking.
What is Metadata?
Let’s begin with the fundamental question. What is metadata?
The term has typically been defined as data about data. Unfortunately, that definition can raise more questions than it answers. Stated another way, metadata is data that describes other data. Or as Wikipedia concludes, metadata is “structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use or manage an information resource.” Examples of the most basic metadata associated with documents include informational properties such as author, file name, date created, date modified, and file size. More meaningful metadata in the context of enterprise content management (ECM) is for example, document type, customer it relates to, and the workflow status. This level of descriptive granularity is vital when it comes to the ability for organizations to effectively manage, process, and secure their information assets.
Here we investigate myths about metadata.
Organizations Already Use Metadata
Most organizations do in fact use some form of metadata. However, the majority regard metadata as an after thought, particularly where ECM is concerned. The problem is, most organizations still rely on traditional folder structures to organize content and then add metadata on top, serving as a secondary filter to help supplement search. That’s the old way of thinking about metadata. Today, being a truly metadata-driven means an organization’s underlying architecture for information management is entirely metadata-based. There’s no need for folders because content is organized and managed based on metadata, making its physical location irrelevant.
Metadata is Only Used to Improve Search
It’s true; metadata was first developed and has been traditionally used to help discover content using keywords—think of the Dewey Decimal system used in libraries. And one of the primary purposes of metadata management remains to enable faster search across data repositories. But there is more to metadata than just those core benefits. Metadata is also used to enforce access rights to files and to initiate workflows—for approving invoices, contracts, agreements, etc.—In addition, plays a powerful role in connecting content repositories with core business applications such as ERP or customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Not only does this help to eliminate information silos, but it provides deeper insight into the actions taking place across businesses, which is powerful intelligence that can help drive better business decisions.
Metadata is Too Complicated
When some businesses first begin working with metadata in a proactive manner, they use too many different attributes and tags. This tends to make metadata management more daunting and complex. In most cases, only the few core attributes that are most important to the business are needed for a metadata structure to be effective. The most effective metadata-based ECM systems only ask users to describe the document or data object with a few properties when saving it—i.e. project name, data, contract type, customer, etc. This simplifies the metadata tagging process and enables users to search the information in a manner that is most logical to them.
Maintaining Metadata is Time Consuming
Some business shy away from leveraging metadata because they think they do not have the time, budget or staff to keep up with the manual tagging efforts. But when it comes to information management, there may be no better way to ensure your organization is making the most of its time and resources than by implementing a metadata strategy. Time wasted searching for documents is a problem that plagues companies of all sizes and in all industries. Leveraging a metadata-based approach to information management, organizations can simplify the ability to search, retrieve, process and archive documents, in turn improves productivity, enhances employee collaboration, and speeds up the decision-making process. What’s more, leading ECM systems can automatically apply metadata to files and objects in a reliable and accurate manner.
Managing business information is more complex than ever. The amount of data is exploding and it’s often stored in a variety of systems and scattered across network drives—making it difficult to find and control. There is a better approach to this chaotic content management environment, by leveraging the power of metadata. Changing how we think about metadata enables organizations to take a leap forward in the way they manage information and processes, allowing faster, more efficient search and navigation, as well as more effective access controls and workflow management. SW
Mika Javanainen is senior director of product management at M-Files Corporation. Javanainen is in charge of managing and developing M-Files product portfolio, roadmaps, and pricing globally. Prior to his executive roles, Javanainen worked as a systems specialist, where he integrated document management systems with ERP and CRM applications.
Feb2017, Software Magazine