What is Metadata and Why is it Important?

Here we want to explore the basic question: What is metadata? And why is it important?

Wikipedia defines metadata as “structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use or manage an information resource.” Those who have been in IT for more than a few years know that the concept of metadata is not new: it’s a term that emerged in the late 1960’s. It has been used since the advent of the Dewey Decimal System in libraries for classifying and categorizing materials based on title, author and subject so that they can more easily be located on shelves from among many thousands of others.

Libraries provide an early example of metadata applied in the physical form, but in our increasingly digital world, the primary purpose of metadata management remains the same: to more quickly navigate across data repositories in order to efficiently find, manage and track information. This, in fact, continues to be the essence of what makes metadata management so critical to today’s most widely used applications, for both small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) and enterprises alike.

Also important is the value that metadata offers for creating associations and relationships between items and users across one or more repositories or related applications, such an ERP or CRM system, as well as its benefits for instituting consistency in the way information is used, stored and shared. Metadata also provides clarity about data origins and data histories, and ensures workflows and business processes are properly followed and administered.

In other words, metadata organizes and tracks the entire digital lifecycle of important business information, including the processes, procedures and users that affect it, providing a precise audit trail that can prove invaluable — or mandatory, in highly-regulated industries — to your business at any point in time. Protecting and organizing this audit trail is yet another reason why metadata should be a cornerstone of your ECM strategy.

The value of metadata lies in its ability to more efficiently classify and organize information, as well as to yield deeper insight into the actions taking place across your business, providing more intelligence and higher quality information to fuel big data initiatives, automation, compliance, data sharing, collaboration and more. Yet, many ECM applications use metadata as an additional information layer and rely on traditional folder structures to organize information. Consequently, users consider metadata administration as extra work, which often leads to bad metadata quality. On the other hand, effective metadata-based ECM systems only ask users to describe the document or data object with tags and properties when saving it. This enables users to search the information in a manner that is most logical to them (i.e., project name, date, contract type, customer, etc.).