These are good times for metadata. In fact, these are great times.

Tagging along (no pun intended) with the barrage of “big data” forecasts by analysts for the last year comes the added bonus of “metadata” to buttress and support the voluminous amounts of data flowing through and clogging the techno pipes of the modern enterprise. And beyond the popular writings in technological forums and online magazines, metadata was also recently cited as one of key tenets of information discovery leading to the charges in the General Petraeus Affair.

Surely, metadata’s time has come.

More than a buzzword, metadata has almost become a norm or de rigeur for project managers, business analysts and engineers struggling to define that “big data” in their Content Management Systems (CMS), Digital Asset Management (DAM) or other digital object repository.

In its simplest form, DAM is the operational and technological management of digital assets in an organized way so that they may be retrieved for use and reuse. Major functions of a DAM are ingestion, storage, cataloging, searching, retrieving and distribution of digital assets.

Users want to be able to find, capture and reuse rich media assets in different contexts and for different purposes than originally intended. Making metadata work in DAM means investing in the construction of a metadata model, a container of descriptive elements about the assets, that enables the users to search for and retrieve the assets needed for their work. Metadata must not be managed in isolation; it is a collaborative effort between many within the organization.

So what exactly is Metadata? Quite simply, it is data about data. It refers to the descriptive elements that define and describe an asset. The National Information Standards Organization breaks metadata down into three main categories:

  • Descriptive metadata describes a resource for purposes such as discovery and identification (i.e., information you would use in a search). It can include elements such as title, abstract, author, and keywords.
  • Structural metadata indicates how compound objects are put together, for example, how pages are ordered to form chapters (e.g., file format, file dimension, file length, etc.). These are the technical “bits and bobs” that are automatically captured upon ingestion.
  • Administrative metadata provides information that helps manage an asset, such as when and how it was created, and who can access it. There are several subsets of administrative data, the most common being rights management metadata (which deals with intellectual property rights) and preservation metadata (which contains information needed to archive and preserve a resource).


There are many real and tangible benefits of metadata that can be immediately recognized and recovered by the business enterprise. In terms of Search & Retrieval, more than 40 percent of time is wasted searching for existing assets and recreating them when they are not able to be found. It may well be very expensive -- in lost productivity, frustration and fees paid to outside resources.

Good metadata may make machines smart; it is a method and opportunity to automate many of the processes and workflows in your business. Employing methods of content identification via XML or other content re-use and management application, allows for workflow automation or even automated distribution of digital assets otherwise dormant.