Metadata is an effective automation tool that simplifies processing large amounts of information. According to Gartner, using it correctly can save up to 70% of time spent on routine mechanical work, giving you more time for creativity and critical decision-making.
Unlike artificial intelligence and augmented analytics, you can apply metadata here and now, without drastically changing business processes and significantly increasing the cost of maintaining your IT infrastructure. In this article, we'll explain how can metadata help you find specific data, what are the most common types of metadata, and in what scenarios you can use it.
How Metadata Helps to Find Specific Data
Metadata is a structured, generalized description of certain information. Simply put, it's data about other data. It sounds complicated, but it's actually much simpler than it seems. Let's take the following image as an example and try to describe it briefly.
It's a photo of a single yellow banana on a uniform pink background that casts a long shadow due to bright artificial lighting. By composing this simple sentence, we got the following metadata about graphic content:
- File type — photo;
- Colors — yellow, pink;
- Number of objects in the image — one;
- background type — uniform;
- Lighting — artificial bright.
Using this information, we can quickly select all photos among the files, separating them from images drawn in graphic editors. If you go further, you can find all the photos with yellow objects or pink backgrounds. Searching by metadata will take seconds as opposed to minutes of manually browsing files on a computer. This will help you save lots of time when, for example, selecting content for your website.
At the same time, the metadata we created takes up 150 bytes, which is about 1% of the total size of a digital photo. By increasing disk space utilization by just one percent, we have improved performance tenfold. This example perfectly demonstrates the effectiveness of proper metadata use.
Ways Metadata Improves Data Accessibility
Metadata helps to categorize information into specific groups: by file type, purpose, format, or source. Such categorization allows you to create metadata filters to automatically distribute data between company departments within one digital storage, for instance, as well as between individual specialists or applications. This routing system increases the speed of data movement in flows, reducing unproductive time.
To simplify the exchange of information on a global scale, large companies and international organizations have created metadata standards. They contain specific rules for describing content. For example, metadata for a video can describe its content, duration, encoding method, and data about the date of the last modification. Standardization makes it possible to establish connections between databases, applications, cloud storage, etc.
Metadata describes how different sources of information are related to each other. It can refer to other arrays, storages, or services. Metadata allows you to build a pattern of relationship between all databases to simplify search, analysis, and data editing.
4. Data lineage
Metadata often contains the entire history of information. It begins with the origin — the date of creation, source of receipt, original content, etc. It also includes information about when, by whom, and to what extent the data was changed. Sometimes, metadata also includes the history of information use, such as the date, unique device identifier, employee position, etc. This allows you to select relevant data, check its reliability, and detect intentional distortions in time.
5. Search and visibility
Some applications can index metadata and use it to quickly provide links to complete sets of information. An example of this can be a well-known search engine like Google, which selects sites by relevance using keywords, backlinks, and other elements.
With the help of a digital asset management (DAM) system, you can easily find the information you need using metadata.
6. Access and Security
Metadata can also set rules for access to the information within one software or file storage, allowing or prohibiting its disclosure to certain user groups. On the one hand, metadata helps to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive data, providing access only for authorized users. On the other hand, company employees can quickly find information available in their workplace or structural unit.
Different Types of Metadata to Improve Information Retrieval
To effectively use metadata for optimizing business processes, you need to understand its content and role. The following types of metadata are most often used in information retrieval:
Provides data about the content and the context of its use. Popular descriptive metadata includes title, summary, keywords, and information about the author and current owner. By viewing it, users can understand how they can apply certain data sets in their work.
For instance, the title of an image may contain the keywords "advertising poster for stores." It provides the following information:
- Purpose — for printing;
- Responsible department — marketing;
- Place of use — in company's stores.
Establishes the relationships between individual elements or data sets. It usually refers to the order in which individual modules are assembled into a finished product or their hierarchy. However, structural metadata can also contain links to arrays that include related information.
For example, a designer created an infographic in ten parts for a future video. In the metadata, they specified the order in which each image would be used during editing. This will reduce the number of requests between company departments and help avoid critical errors.
Used for data management. It helps to understand who created the information and when, what its current version is, and who has the right to read and edit it. Administrative metadata helps users find the files they need and determine whether they can access them.
Let’s imagine that the seventh round of edits to a podcast received a low rating from the focus group. The person in charge decided to upload the previous version to the Internet. To do this, the manager needs to find the sixth version of the audio file in the cloud storage using administrative metadata.
Allows you to assess the requirements for using information. Technical metadata includes file format, content-encoding method, storage capacity, data storage location, etc. It also contains specific information, such as the frame rate for video, focal length for photos, bit rate for audio, etc.
For example, a high-resolution photo in RAW format takes 60-70 MB. Let’s say a cloud storage accepts files of up to 50 MB in size. After comparing these parameters, the program will save the image in the local storage, preventing accidental loss.
Displays the reliability of information and its value for use in certain scenarios. Qualitative metadata allows you to determine how complete, accurate, relevant, and up-to-date the data is. By reviewing these fields, a specialist can decide whether to use or ignore certain information.
When a scientist is reviewing several publications, in the notes to the files, they see that one publication has a low-quality rating and has not been reviewed for a long time. They decide to reject it and use alternative materials in their work.
6. Data provenance
Demonstrates the changes that have occurred to the information from the beginning until the current moment. It contains the date and time of creation of the digital asset, as well as history of its transformation and updating. This section of metadata is very important in terms of data integrity and reliability.
When an analyst sees that a spreadsheet has been recently modified by another employee, this serves as a signal for additional data verification. If customer information was filled in manually and not retrieved from the CRM, it may indicate that the data is distorted.
7. Data usage
Shows all episodes of data use since its creation. From this section, you can find out who accessed certain data, when, and by what means. Metadata also often contains permissions and prohibitions for certain groups of users.
When a manager wants to optimize image processing before uploading them to a website, they learn that designers prefer to use application A, while alternative solution B is faster, from metadata By changing the standard protocol, they increase the department's productivity.
Why Metadata Is Important for Efficient Data Discovery
Let's look at the role of metadata in two hypothetical examples. We'll demonstrate how different types of metadata help you quickly discover the right piece of information.
Example 1: Searching for Images to Use in Ad Campaign
The company has tens of thousands of photos that demonstrate all the products in its catalog. From them, you need to select those that show 1200W computer power supplies.
In such a scenario, it's wise to use a digital asset management system like Pics.io. It will help you organize your files and significantly increase your work efficiency. You can use different types of metadata as follows:
- Descriptive. Searching for photos using keywords "PSU" and "1200W" will help you select relevant product reviews. You can also enter category tags such as "over 1000W" or "for RTX 4090" to narrow down your selection.
- Structural. Once you've found all the products you need, you can leave notes in the metadata for the marketing manager, for example, and link the files to your ad campaign. Pics.io allows you to link files to any other digital asset, including links to third-party resources.
- Administrative. Another way to make your search easier is to find photos that were saved in a specific company department and are available to its employees. Metadata will help you select files by author and usage rights.
- Technical. Only Full HD pictures (1920x1080) will be used in the ad campaign. The digital asset management system will help you set a filter by resolution.
- Qualitative. Specialists who shot the photos leave notes on their quality. You can only select files that have a 5/5 rating.
- About data origin. Only photos that have been pre-processed, including color correction and noise removal, are suitable for editing. So, you won't be interested in the first versions of the files.
- About data use. Metadata shows you that these photos are usually uploaded to a website for publication in product cards. Such materials are also suitable for promotions.
Example 2: Determining Interest Rate on a Loan
A bank manager has to service VIP clients who receive personalized loan terms. By raising the loan rate, they can expect a bonus at the end of the period but risk receiving a refusal from a client. The employee's task is to find the "golden mean." For this purpose, digital asset management systems or other applications can be used. Metadata is used as follows:
- Descriptive. Search by the name of the client's company will allow you to get their complete dossier.
- Structural. By studying this section, you can see all related documents, such as financial reports and details regarding private student loans provided to the client.
- Administrative. This metadata will help you identify materials that contain essential data and are available only to people in charge.
- Technical. If a manager is interested in numbers, they should look for spreadsheets in XLSX format, ignoring constituent documents in PDF.
- Qualitative. After compiling a list of reports, it will be useful to review comments — some of them may have been withdrawn due to errors.
- About data origin. It is very important to know that the information is true. If it has been edited many times, some values may be accidentally or intentionally distorted.
- About data use. The manager can see that the financial analysis department uses the documents most often — these materials fall within their area of interest.
By understanding the role of metadata, you can facilitate search for information and save time spent on finding the necessary files and information. To use metadata effectively, you will need appropriate software solutions. One of them can be a digital asset management system like Pics.io. It allows you to categorize and sort multiple files, set up sharing rules, and add custom tags among others.