Here are six ways businesses can deal with the SharePoint metadata issue. They range from developing information governance strategies to implementing text analytics and improving SharePoint's native search functions of the SharePoint edition they work with.

The projects were identified in recent research by semantic search vendor Concept Searching (CS), which called them key objectives for companies that want to get the best out of their SharePoint deployments. 

Managing Metadata

The heart of the problem is the managed metadata functionality that was introduced in SharePoint 2010 and the use or lack of use of this functionality by the enterprise. Managed metadata supports a number of approaches to categorization of information in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 including hierarchical taxonomies, user created folksonomies and centrally managed term stores, but users complain of the challenges and difficulties of using the system. 

The survey found enterprises are or will use Term Store or Office 365 and its SharePoint Online element to introduce or extend the following projects across the enterprise:

1. Information Governance

It seems that enterprises are finally getting the message that information governance is important. Maybe this is because they are starting to see the commercial sense in being able to find their data. Or maybe it's because so many companies have been slapped by courts with heavy fines in recent years for failure to adhere to regulatory policies on information that is pushing this trend.

Whatever the reasons, the CS survey found 73 percent of respondents have the development of information governance initiatives across their SharePoint environments on their "Things To Do" list.

The first part of this process is the development of an enterprise metadata repository to address information governance issues, followed by the introduction of other application scenarios. After the introduction of a metadata repository, specific enterprise-wide content management polices can be introduced.

One point that emerged is that records identification, migration and the development of information security are all on almost equal footing with the development of an enterprise metadata repository.

But it seems enterprises still struggle to assess the return on investment (ROI) with governance plans and the development of consistent enterprise-wide metadata.

Concept Searching suggested this might demonstrate a lack of understanding of the role of metadata in things like e-discovery. To convince enterprises to implement information governance strategies, it is important to point out the ROI, especially as it applies to SharePoint environments.

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2. Improving Search

Search is another difficult project for enterprises, particularly for those using SharePoint 2013. According to the research, 51 percent of organizations plan to develop search as a future project.

This is possibly because SharePoint 2013 incorporated many features of Microsoft’s FAST search functionality. This, CS said, greatly improved SharePoint search to a point that many organizations are content enough to leave it alone.

CS pointed out that businesses should not consider search as an application in its own right as it reaches into every corner of the enterprise including collaboration, text analytics and enterprise social networking. In fact, all future focus areas represented in the survey are in some way dependent on highly accurate and relevant search results.

This may change when other enterprise projects like records identification, e-discovery or content management move from the planning stage to the implementation stage.

3. Text Analytics

Concept Searching described the findings around text analytics as one of the more surprising results of the survey with 86 percent of respondents identifying it as a future project.

Text analytics offer insights and improved decision making.  But effective text analytics also depends on good information management combined with a metadata strategy.

The report also noted the constant state of flux surrounding unstructured content from conversations or social networks.

The survey results point to a growing awareness in enterprises of the value of unstructured content, which can drive positive business outcomes and transform unstructured content into business assets.

Which returns us to search, which brings us back in turn to metadata and metadata management.

We saw yesterday that in most cases end users are responsible for tagging. In some organizations this is successful, in others, it is not. This can become a stumbling block as inaccurate tagging will confound text analytics, something which could be avoided using proper metadata tagging strategies.

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4. Enterprise Social Networking

Enterprise social networking can offer business value to enterprises that use it effectively. The research showed that it is now moving beyond its original purpose of connecting people.

According to CS, social networking is solving multiple content management and search issues to such an extent that deployment of social networks along side SharePoint is expected to climb as high as 71 percent.

This indicates an organizational acceptance of enterprise social networks, but not necessarily end user acceptance.

At the SharePoint Conference in March, Microsoft noted that it will focus on providing tools that support organizational interaction through Yammer and Office 365.

These two social tools will impact the deployment of future applications and SharePoint-centric organizations will need to think through how they are going to "search" these tools as they are implemented.

5. The Role of Collaboration

According to research from Aberdeen, companies that identified collaboration as a top business goal saw significant business performance improvement compared to organizations that did not. Effective collaboration depends on finding the right people across the enterprise.

Many enterprises appear to be aware of this already, with 56 percent noting it as a future project that would be applied either internally or externally. 

6. Content Management

The last suggestion focused on content management, with 42 percent naming it as a top focus area. Recent Forrester research showed 75 percent of enterprise content management professionals are planning to increase their deployments in the next twelve months.

Based on the 58 percent who did not identify content management as a priority, Concept suggested that most enterprises believe they have their content issues under control so there is no need for action. The report also argued that enterprises have yet to see the value of proactively managing content, which is effectively what a metadata strategy aims to do.

The CS report identified the biggest problems for end users as: poor content strategies (44 percent) and lack of IT and business alignment (26 percent).

The survey named business challenges that SharePoint organizations face daily and how these defined current and future focuses. They include traditional applications like security, records management and migration, areas which carry a high cost to the enterprise in instances of failure.