If the term “metadata management” makes your eyes cross, you’re probably not alone. Metadata management may sound somewhat geeky, but it’s a critical component of records management — particularly as data volumes grow.
Metadata is literally data about data. It’s human-applied information that describes content. If you’re familiar with Twitter hashtags, then you already understand the concept. People apply hashtags to tweets to make them easier to find and follow. The same applies to corporate records, but meta tags have many more uses than simply finding and following.
Content management and document management systems use meta tags to organize information. A user can easily get a list of records about a certain topic or by a certain author merely by searching for a meta tag. Search engines give meta tags special attention in determining search results. The same idea can apply to your internal database management systems. The meta tags that appear at the bottom of this article can guide you to similar content elsewhere on the site.
But why do you need metadata management when search engines are so good at quickly finding content? Search engines are adept at finding all the documents that mention a particular string of text, but they don’t necessarily know how relevant that text is to the topic of the document. For example, they can find all articles in a content management system that mention “accounting,” but only a human-applied meta tag can say whether the article is specifically relevant to accountants. Meta tags are also particularly useful in describing non-searchable content, such as video files and images.
Creating a good meta tag management strategy means defining what information matters to your organization — and what doesn’t. It’s easy to go overboard with metadata and create a long list of tags, but that defeats the purpose. Concentrate on the information that is relevant to your records management process. For example, the name of a document’s author may not be relevant to you, but the fact that a document contains personally identifiable information may be. In that case, a meta tag like “PII” should be on your list.
You can also classify information according to things like confidentiality level or handling instructions. Using a date meta tag can help you quickly find documents that are no longer needed and can be discarded. Applying meta tags that match regulatory guidelines helps you to easily retrieve those records in case of an audit. Searching a combination of meta tags helps you drill down to find a smaller batch of documents that relate to a specific topic.
A good meta tag strategy takes multiple stakeholders into account. Consider who may need access to your records, such as contractors, regulators, vendors and individuals within your organization. Interview each of the stakeholders to get their input. Working with a knowledgeable third party can help you apply best practices.