Why leveraging metadata is vital to getting more out of big data

The big data imperative

A few years ago, Gartner predicted that enterprise data growth would reach 650% in five years, and that 80% of that data would be unstructured. IDC has since stated that the amount of information in the world doubles every 18 months. There is no denying that companies are producing more and more content faster than ever before, and this information often resides in disparate and disconnected business systems and repositories.

While the upsides to effectively harnessing big data are both well-touted and understood, organisations using traditional folder-driven systems for information management are more susceptible to its pitfalls. Employees waste significant amounts of time every day searching for the information they need, with Gartner estimating that it takes professionals an average of 18 minutes to locate each document. In addition, duplicate documents and versions creep across folders and systems, threatening data quality and business outcomes.

With IDC estimating that time wasted searching for corporate information costs an organisation more than US$19,000 (around £12,000, AU$22,000) per information worker per year, it is safe to assume that the larger the organisation and its data repositories, the greater the potential negative impact, based on preventable inefficiencies and lost productivity.

However, a metadata-driven approach can help organisations extract greater value from their big data, while tackling the inherent challenges of data scale…

Quick access to the right information

Dynamic business models and fierce competition require that companies strive to work increasingly faster and smarter. This requires users to be able to find the documents they're looking for instantly, with greater accuracy, and in a manner that is personalised and relevant to them. For example, using the expiry date attribute of agreements, users can quickly locate agreements that are set to expire in the next 90 days. Alternatively, metadata can help to identify content that does not yet exist in the repository. This approach can be used to control work orders so that the job is not started before employees' qualification documents have been delivered.

Eliminating information silos and connecting relevant content

In the era of big data, organisations need to bring order to their information chaos. Massive amounts of structured data and unstructured content often reside within multiple and disconnected platforms, applications, locations and devices. This makes it increasingly difficult for employees to find and access the information required to do their jobs.

Using metadata as a bridge to connect structured data with unstructured content, organisations can eliminate information silos across different business systems (ERP, CRM, etc.), departments and devices. Regardless of where the data resides, it can be accessed and synced across various systems and devices with no duplication of content. To this end, metadata breaks down the barriers between companies and their information, and structured data and unstructured content is then freed from the confines of applications, platforms and information silos.

For example, when a company leverages metadata to link its CRM system (structured data application) to its unstructured content repository, the sales force can access proposals, contracts and purchase orders directly from within the CRM system instead of having to navigate to the folder where these documents reside.

Using metadata, organisations can also create associations and relationships between various types of information across one or more repositories or related applications. These relationships establish relevancy and paint a 360-degree view of all the documents, processes and team members related to that information asset based on its metadata. This is extremely helpful when performing root cause analysis, as the operating procedures are automatically linked to the deviations, corrective actions and new learning requirements for the employees.

Best metadata-driven practices

As with any company-wide initiative designed with success in mind, a metadata-driven approach for managing big data requires a plan. Organisations should define processes and create templates to support employees in the development and management of information assets throughout their lifecycles. Metadata can serve as the foundation for maintaining information consistency and data quality, streamlining workflow capabilities, and protecting sensitive information, particularly when compliance is at stake.