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Metadata: What is it, and why is it critical to business?

By Contributor
Thu 5 Aug 2021

Article by SnapLogic CTO Craig Stewart.
 

Data management has been around for a long time. But now more than ever, data is a commodity highly valued within businesses — it can provide insights in seconds that previously would have taken days, months or even years to figure out. 

It’s been proven to help drive business success by identifying both opportunities and threats, and increasing productivity when used correctly. It’s no wonder businesses want to get it right.

But many businesses have not yet identified data’s counterpart — metadata. Metadata has gone largely unnoticed, even though it can bring so much value through adding context to data. Rather than being ignored as a by-product of their IT estate, businesses should make sure metadata is on their radar.


What is metadata?

Metadata provides information about data that is in focus — it’s data about data. For example — take a document that is shared with an individual. The data is the document’s contents, but the metadata encompasses the information related to the document’s properties — such as who created it, when they created it or when it was last edited and by whom. 

This added context to data is what makes metadata so valuable to businesses. It provides teams with an extra layer of insights, and if used correctly, it can allow teams to find necessary insights into how the company is being run. Plus, it’s especially useful in data governance as it provides more transparency around the quality of the data they are working with. 

There are plenty of uses of metadata — which means there are many benefits in introducing a policy of metadata management. For example, if you can provide the context of data, you can accelerate the user’s ability to find that value — avoiding costly experimentation and improving productivity. Metadata also helps to keep information organised, reducing the chances of disorganised or messy data.

Additionally, metadata makes data auditable. Having a good understanding of what it means makes it easier to define and cleanse the original data. This is helpful when it comes to compliance and regulation such as CCPA, GDPR. Teams can trust that the data is clean, up to defined standards and reliable. 
 

The importance of metadata management 

It’s crucial to understand how to manage metadata. Point solutions may be the first port of call for many IT leaders, using custom code or APIs to connect one application to another through a central data warehouse. It’s a trusted approach, bringing all the metadata together in one place. 

But if the APIs need to change, or the code isn’t working quite right, it can be time-consuming to fix — meaning attention is moved to IT administration rather than tasks that deliver business value.

The alternative is taking a platform-based approach to integration. This approach provides a single harmonious layer for data to move throughout the organisation, automatically keeping that metadata current, cutting down on the chaos and noise of too much dubious data. It allows IT leaders to reap all the benefits of the metadata being inherent in the platform without updating and tweaking manually.

Additionally, the move towards low-code and no-code technologies supports the management of metadata within the enterprise. This allows individuals outside the IT team to get valuable insights from metadata without needing extensive technical skill or understanding. Through this, everyone within the organisation can access insights from metadata — easing the burden on IT and governance teams.
 

Progressing towards better metadata within the enterprise

In today’s world, there’s more information for businesses to utilise than ever before. But it’s more important than ever to have a solid understanding of the data they hold and why it’s relevant. 

If used correctly, enterprises can benefit from the extra layer of context that metadata provides to drive successful results through the additional insights it can bring. If they’re not already, businesses should consider introducing a common layer of metadata to their organisation.

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