Metadata is a key factor in the success of all software systems, and this is especially true with records and information management (RIM) software. Without certain kinds of metadata, the RIM system is like a library without indexing – a great place for storing things, but ultimately useless because people cannot locate what they are looking for.
Because metadata plays such a significant role in RIM systems, we need to have a clear grasp of what it does – and what it can do – before going ahead with an implementation.
What is metadata?
Metadata is often described as "data that provides information about other data" (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary), or more simply: information about information. In a RIM system, the presence of metadata means that the system is not only storing or tracking individual business documents (paper and electronic), it is storing information about those documents. To help you visualize metadata, you could think of it like sticky notes or category labels applied to a traditional paper file folder.
In a RIM system, metadata acts like electronic versions of sticky notes or category labels.
When you use keywords to search for documents, the RIM system is able to search the metadata fields as well as the content of the document itself. This gives you much more control over how you search for and retrieve documents in the system.
Getting metadata right
In order for metadata to work its magic, it needs to be planned out carefully in advance – long before implementation.
To get metadata right you need to explore a number of important questions, such as:
- Who will use the system?
- What tasks will the system help them carry out?
- What tasks will the system handle?
- How will data enter the system?
- What other systems does the system need to integrate with?
- What information needs to be pulled out of the system?
- What kind of tracking is required in terms of how the system is used, how the information moves and how it changes over time?
Designing a metadata structure could take months, or even a year, depending on the size of the project, and should not be rushed. We have heard of many cases where the metadata design phase was rushed and the results were disappointing.
In a future post we will dive in to the eight ways metadata is used in RIM systems. If you can’t wait to read it on our blog, you can download our white paper complete with real world examples of how metadata adds value in a RIM system.