To effectively manage and exploit a company’s knowledge, you need a metadata plan. The successful implementation of any content-related strategy -- be it data, digital assets or text -- requires implementation of a holistic metadata schema that is supported by technology, people and process.

Building a DAM or CMS without a metadata plan is akin to throwing papers in an unmarked box. The systematic organization that metadata provides increases the return on investment of a content system by unlocking the potential to ingest, discover, share and distribute assets.

What is Metadata?

Metadata is a love note to the future.” -- unknown

Simply stated, metadata is information that describes other data -- data about data. It is the descriptive, administrative and structural data that define assets.

  1. 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, creator, author and keywords.
  2. Structural metadata indicates how compound objects are put together, for example, how a digital image is configured as provided in EXIF data, or how pages are ordered to form chapters (e.g. file format, file dimension, file length).
  3. Administrative metadata provides information that helps manage an asset. Two common subsets of administrative data are rights management metadata (which deals with intellectual property rights) and preservation metadata (which contains information needed to archive and preserve a resource).

As a structural component of a DAM or CMS, metadata becomes an asset unto itself -- and an important one, at that. It provides the foundation needed to make assets more discoverable, accessible and, therefore, more valuable. In other words: Metadata transforms content into “smart assets.” Simply digitizing video, audio, graphic files provides a certain convenience, but it is the ability to find, share and distribute files with specific attributes that unlocks their full potential and value.

Search, and You Shall Find Happiness

This search for what you want is like tracking something that doesn’t want to be tracked. It takes time to get a dance right, to create something memorable.” -- Fred Astaire

Research shows that workers waste more than 40 percent of their time searching for existing assets and recreating them when they are not found. This lost productivity and redundancy from the non-discovery of assets is expensive. Inefficiency only increases over time as a system grows, evolves and is exposed to new kinds of content and users.

It's estimated that every year, 800 neologisms (new words and phrases) are added to the English language. Metadata is a snapshot representing the business processes and goals at a particular time. In an ever-changing business environment, metadata must be able to evolve over time. If maintained and governed well, metadata will continue to contribute to expanding business needs.

The best way to plan for future change is to apply an effective layer of governance to metadata. Remember that metadata is a “snapshot” in time. Take the time to manage language, and control the change.

Why Metadata

Metadata is the best way to protect and defend digital assets from information overload and mismanagement. Invest the time, energy and resources to identify, define and organize assets for discovery. Metadata serves asset discovery by:

  • Allowing assets to be found by relevant criteria
  • Identifying assets
  • Bringing similar assets together
  • Distinguishing dissimilar assets
  • Giving location information

You know that assets are critical to business operations. You want them to be discovered at all points within a digital lifecycle from creation, to discovery and distribution. To accomplish this, establish systems that inspire trust and certainty that data is accurate and usable. Metadata increases the return on investment on the assets and is also a line of defense against lost opportunities. Think about the digital experience for users and ensure they identify, discover and experience brand the way in which it was intended. It is a necessary defense.

Metadata Design: Where to Start?

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” -- Nido Quebin

The path to good metadata design begins with the realization that digital assets need to be identified, organized and made available for discovery. The following questions serve as the beginning of that design:

1. What problems do you need to solve?

  • Identify the business goals of the organization and how metadata may contribute to those goals. The goal is to be “cohesive,” not “disjointed”

2. Who is going to use the metadata and for what?

  • Consider the audience for the metadata and decide how much metadata you need. The best strategy is accurate intelligence

3. What kinds of metadata are important for those purposes?

  • Be specific about today and plan for flexibility in the future by developing an extensible model that will allow for growth and evolution over time.

Metadata is the foundation for every digital strategy. It is needed to deliver an optimized and fully engaging consumer experience. There are other critical steps to take as well, including building the right team, making the correct business case, and performing effective requirements gathering -- but nothing can replace an effective metadata foundation. The goal of storing assets is discovery -- they want to be found. Metadata will help ensure that you are building the right system for the right users.

An Ongoing Effort

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and there is no greater journey upon which to embark than that of managing content. Metadata is never really done, it’s continuous; an ongoing improvement and development that needs time and effort. As with all good governance practices, it demands full attention to change. The sophistication of metadata lies in its evolution within an organization.

Metadata matters. It's neither a trend, nor a buzzword. Metadata is the most real application of asset and data management that enables creation, discovery and ultimately to distribution and consumption. Start now!

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  mikecogh