02 EMBRACE METADATA
Embrace Metadata: Connect, Find, Protect and Store Information
In simplest terms, metadata is data about data — information attached to a ﬁle or document, the purpose of which is to deﬁne, describe and classify that ﬁle or document. With a metadata-driven approach to ECM, the following functions become easier to perform and manage:7
- Information retrieval and consolidation
- Information ownership and access rights
- Information preservation and retention
In the world of network drives and traditional ﬁle storage taxonomy, users store documents and information in speciﬁc folders and subfolders. Inherently, this can be the silent cause of several fundamental challenges:
- Are ﬁles being saved in the correct location?
- If a ﬁle can be logically saved into a few diﬀerent locations, how does the user choose which folder is best?
- Are ﬁles stored in a place where other contributors can easily locate them?
- Is there redundancy where the same ﬁle saved in multiple locations, possibly even by diﬀerent users?
When we use metadata to classify information, users do not need to know where they are saving a piece of information or a document. The important thing is to know something about the information itself. Whenever data or documents are saved into the ECM system, they are tagged with metadata. This makes it easy to ﬁnd the information you’re looking for because it’s the context — not the location — that matters.
From the user’s perspective, metadata enables information and documents to be found more eﬃciently because they can search for information in a way that suits them best.
Consider this simple example. A company has issued an invoice to XYZ Inc. detailing a purchase of 1,000 widgets. The Sales Manager needs to reference that invoice and searches by customer name — XYZ Inc. Meanwhile, the Shipping Manager has a box of 1,000 widgets for delivery, but he can’t recall the customer name and needs to reference the same invoice, so he searches ”1,000 widgets.” Without metadata, it’s anyone’s guess if either (or both) will ﬁnd the information they are looking for given that they are searching for the same document, each using diﬀerent queries. When documents are tagged with the correct metadata, that single document can be found in multiple ways, rather than having to search several folders for a document.
Overlapping systems create problems. They are essentially islands of information stored in and supported by specialized — often redundant — applications and operations. With a metadata-enabled ECM, an organization can consolidate information from disparate overlapping systems into one centralized, normalized repository. Consolidation is more than just connecting and enriching information across multiple systems. Consolidation and repackaging of information means users ﬁnd the single version of a ﬁle they need, rather than the same ﬁle with twenty diﬀerent ﬁlenames.
Ownership, Access Rights, Preservation & Retention
A metadata-based ECM system enables permissions based on user roles so that, if necessary, the access rights to speciﬁc documents can be restricted. In such cases, permissions management is not based on a folder structure but on metadata. Dynamic access permissions are automatically created based on the user’s position in an organization. For example, the role of ”manager” enables the person to access information related to the manager’s subordinates. If the role changes, the access permission also changes automatically. You don’t have to worry about adding access rights to speciﬁc folders for a speciﬁc person separately as the access logic handles the permission changes. Additionally, it’s also possible to add access permissions along with editing and viewing rights for individual documents, if necessary.
Metadata-driven permissions and the associated audit trail and event log also help organizations prove that they follow the access control policies the organization has deﬁned. Automatic notiﬁcations and updates reduce the risk of maintaining and accessing outdated documents, like old contracts. Notiﬁcations on outdated documents also make it easier to get rid of outdated information.