Much of the focus on “big data” is devoted to transactions or machine-to-machine data. Unstructured data like documents, images, audio, video and social media streams are generally given lower priority, even though the majority of business data today is unstructured and multiplying rapidly.
The Metadata Management Problem in Most Enterprises
When it comes to managing unstructured information, most enterprises are either flailing or failing. They have lots of unstructured data, but not much metadata – the “data about the data” for context that leads to greater access and utility.
We find the following circumstances in many organizations when it comes to metadata management for unstructured information:
- Strategy – nonexistent or a small piece of an overall IT strategy.
- Process – haphazard at best.
- Technology – viewed as the solution, when it’s part of the solution and part of the problem.
Organizations understand that there’s gold in their unstructured information; yet they also know the challenge involved in finding the buried treasures. Unstructured data involves many disparate systems and file types. It’s being generated in every corner of the enterprise by most employees – virtually all employees in some cases. Unstructured data gets filed away in many different places, creating silos of information within silos of operations.
Digital Storage is Cheap
I mean that literally and figuratively. Literally, we can now get cloud-based storage for free from providers like Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon Cloud Drive. Yet figuratively, digital storage is cheap because if offers limited value. What good is it to store something, including digital information, if it cannot be readily found or put to use again?
Cheap digital storage becomes expensive when it leads to the expenditures of more costly, valuable resources. Employee time and productivity are wasted by trying to find something or recreating it. Financial resources are spent unnecessarily when more content must be acquired. Opportunities are missed when valuable information is not considered or incorporated into strategies and plans.
Without metadata management and other information standards and processes, all that cheap storage can be likened to the basements or attics of many homes – full of stuff, much of it useful and valuable, yet out of sight and out of mind.
Metadata Management: Beyond the IT Perspective
Metadata is the “data about the data” that gives structure to the diversity of unstructured information, making it visible and available while informing users about its relevance and usefulness. The most effective metadata management starts with a fresh mindset of viewing unstructured data as digital assets. And the best references for looking at content as assets are media businesses and libraries:
Media businesses, like entertainment companies or publishers, know that every piece of content is an asset – something that could be used, reused and leveraged in multiple ways for monetary gain. While media companies are able to monetize this content directly as their core business, companies in other industries from law to manufacturing to insurance are more likely to recognize gains that are indirect, but important nonetheless.
Libraries, as the world’s first repositories of information, have been the developers of metadata and other classification standards for millennia! Modern library science continues to refine and innovate these standards as information becomes more diverse and digital. Librarians are the information category and retrieval experts and guardians of knowledge who should be on any metadata management team.
Organizations that are ready to bring order to their unstructured information need first and foremost a fresh perspective, looking at their unstructured information as digital assets (as a media company does) and managing them with metadata and other standards and processes developed in library science.
LAC Group is neither a library nor a media company per se, but we have expertise in both domains. In the weeks to come, my colleagues and I will delve into more specific metadata topics.