How important is document metadata?

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Document metadata is an extremely important aspect of enterprise content management (ECM). However, the construct of metadata can be somewhat confusing. That makes understanding how to use it difficult. It’s best to think of metadata as the additional information about a document other than the content that might be useful in the future.

Finding a document that doesn’t already contain metadata is difficult. For example, author, date created and date modified are examples of very basic metadata. Where metadata starts to get confusing is in how companies choose to implement it. Sometimes the difference between a taxonomy and metadata isn’t always clear. Other times, a company’s metadata is a “folksonomy” that rolls up automatically into a taxonomy.

Companies might have knowledge workers enter metadata as tags and keywords, or they might automatically assign tags and keywords based on document type. In the end, when choosing what metadata to use, there should be a conversation about how you want to store and locate documents today and in the future. If you believe there is value in adding tags to each document to better enable users to find documents via search, then that should be your approach with metadata. But when metadata isn’t utilized, it can become just an additional step in getting a document stored. On the other hand, there are many ways to infer or automatically extract document metadata based on business rules and taxonomy.

We use metadata on a daily basis without knowing it. Every company should consider the use of additional metadata and its internal value as part of an ECM system and strategy .

This was first published in May 2010

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