What Is Metadata – A Simple Explanation Of What Everyone Should Know
2 July 2021
If you Googled “metadata” and found this article, you used metadata. When you bought your mother a gift from Amazon, you used metadata. Did you just reconnect with a colleague via LinkedIn? Metadata was at work. Your afternoon Spotify fix? Yep, you guessed it, you used metadata.
But what is metadata?
Quite simply: metadata is data that describes other data. In information technology, the prefix meta means “an underlying definition or description.” So, metadata describes whatever piece of data it’s connected to whether that data is video, a photograph, web pages, content or spreadsheets.
Since metadata summarises basic info about data such as type of asset, author, date created, usage, file size and more, metadata is crucial to the efficiency of information systems to classify and categorise data. Metadata information helps IT systems uncover what users are looking for.
It’s important to note that organisations are inundated with structured and unstructured data and they both need metadata. Structured data is easily organised and discovered through search engine algorithms (a strict database format), while unstructured data is the complete opposite. Email is an example of unstructured data. Most emails aren’t easily categorised, because they rarely cover a single subject.
Most business interactions are in the format of unstructured data, making sorting and defining the data a time-consuming and expensive proposition, but metadata can help.
Why does metadata matter in a Big Data world?
Metadata is a game-changer in a Big Data world, because it can give you a competitive advantage. Right now, it’s often taken for granted or not prioritised by chief information officers.
The better you harness the power of Big Data to drive business decisions, the more successful your firm will be. The more robust your metadata, the quicker your team will be able to extract actionable information and make quick business decisions. In addition to better and quicker decision-making, metadata supports data consistency across an enterprise and enables associations between data sets for high-quality results.
Although metadata is one of the fastest-growing segments of enterprise data management according to a report published by IDC, there’s a significant Big Data Gap—metadata isn’t keeping up with the rapid rate of Big Data projects. Without metadata, companies are losing out on analysing and interpreting Big Data and the subsequent insight it offers to propel their business.
As each new Big Data initiative is launched, it is essential to accompany it with a comprehensive metadata management strategy before it balloons out of control after start-up. Investing the time to ensure each digital asset follows a consistent methodology will pay dividends in efficiency and usability in the future.
Is metadata more important than Big Data?
Metadata is the fuel that drives digital asset management.
Metadata allows analysts to unlock meaning in Big Data. It ultimately increases the value of an organisation’s data resources because it allows data to be identified, discovered and associated across an enterprise. Without metadata, a lot of Big Data is unusable or unmanageable.
Metadata streamlines the collection, integration and analysis of Big Data, manages the entire data lifecycle as well as maintains an audit trail to meet regulatory requirements.
Where to go from here If you would like to know more about data analysis and analytics, cheque out my articles on:
- How is Big Data used in practise? 10 use cases everyone must read
- Big Data: Too many questions, not enough answers
- The 6 Key Data Science Skills Every Business Needs Today
Or browse the Big Data and Analytics and Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning sections of this site to find more articles and many practical examples.
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