For years, companies have been hard at work analyzing vast amounts of big data trying to uncover insights and trends that help them deliver better business results. But for the most part, they’re only analyzing structured data, the kind that analytics tools can deal with. By making it easier to search for, access, analyze and consume all types of information, including unstructured content from a variety of applications, companies can include more types of data under the big data umbrella – and extract far more value from it.

The key to doing so is to use “little data,” or metadata. Metadata is defined as “data about data,” and it can take many forms. For example, metadata attributes embedded into songs in iTunes help you search for music by artist, song title, album or genre. In the context of business documents, typical metadata attributes often include the author, date created or modified, file type and file size. With more advanced attributes such as document type, related customer, project or case, and effective date, metadata enables unstructured content such as documents, spreadsheets and emails to be categorized, organized and searched more efficiently.

Little data delivers big value

Using metadata effectively enables unstructured content to be more easily found, and let’s face it, if an information asset can’t be found, it has little to no value. This is one of the reasons why many companies are turning to metadata-driven enterprise content management (ECM) systems to ensure that the right content is in the right hands at the right time.

The metadata-centric approach also eliminates the duplication of content by enabling a unique information asset to be revealed in searches dynamically based on the context, wherever and whenever it is needed. This intuitive approach enables users to quickly and easily locate content in "Dynamic Views" based on the metadata properties of documents and other objects. In this way, an information asset can be found in different locations with no duplication of data. With this approach, "folders" are simply a dynamic product of metadata rather than a static location or container that itself classifies the data. The result is faster access to the precise content users are looking for.

Furthermore, leveraging metadata enables organizations to create associations and relationships between various information assets, even if they reside in different applications, whether on-premises or in the cloud. Consider an avionics company that supplies sophisticated solutions to commercial airlines. When a technician is called on to repair a component, he can search on the component name to get the latest repair manual. His search may also turn up reports of customers who have had issues with the same component, even though that data is in the company’s call center system, enabling him to quickly find the documentation that has been proven to help customers with similar problems in the past. When structured data systems are linked to unstructured content items in this manner, companies benefit from a 360-degree view of the relationships that exist among all objects, whether structured data or unstructured content.

Metadata-based ECM systems can also play a key role with respect to automation. A company can set up a process whereby any document with the “requisition” metadata attribute is automatically routed to the employee’s manager for approval, and then to finance. This eliminates the need to manage the review and approval process in a manual manner via email. The system can also email the user who initiated the request when it’s approved, and the route the request to purchasing. The ECM system provides an audit trail for the entire process, which is crucial for regulatory compliance in some industries.

In addition, metadata can be used to ensure that confidential and sensitive corporate information is secure and accessible only to authorized individuals. Access permissions can be applied to files and data objects based on document type, role, department and more. For example, access permissions for an employment agreement can be accessible only by human resources.

Unlock the power

Leveraging metadata (little data) for managing Big Data helps to eliminate the content chaos inherent in many companies by enabling individuals to quickly locate the exact content they need, regardless of which business application it resides in. This approach enables enterprises to more effectively organize, manage, secure and share their information, which leads to better decisions, faster results, improved collaboration and the highest levels of security and compliance. 

Mika Javanainen
Mika Javanainen

Mika Javanainen is Senior Director of Product Management at M-Files Corporation. Javanainen is in charge of managing and developing M-Files product portfolio, roadmaps and pricing globally. Prior to his executive roles, Javanainen worked as a systems specialist, where he integrated document management systems with ERP and CRM applications. A published author, Javanainen has an executive MBA in International Business and Marketing. Follow Mika on Twitter at @mikajava.