August 21, 2023

Maintaining Metadata Momentum

Metadata can unlock incredible value for your organization and enable the business to accelerate its adoption of revolutionary machine learning and artificial intelligence applications. However, despite all that promise, actually accumulating useful and consistent metadata remains a challenge.

To truly capitalize on the potential metadata offers, a few things must happen:

  • The business is capturing the right metadata
  • Metadata is consistently captured
  • Captured metadata is consistent

Simply telling everyone in the company that they “have to do metadata now” is unlikely to meet the three goals above. Instead, organizations must be intentional about metadata and tend to it like any other evolving system. While there’s no perfect playbook for metadata success, adopting some of these best practices boosts the odds of maximizing the value metadata can deliver after the initial excitement dies down.

Capturing the right metadata

Time moves on for all things. What we cared about a few years ago may or may not matter today. That’s why organizations can’t remain static regarding what metadata they’re capturing.

To ensure you’re capturing metadata that matches the business’s current needs, you must first know what you’re currently collecting. This is where a Master List comes in handy. This single living repository for every field and value can be referenced whenever it’s needed. Not only does this spare the organization from wasting resources conducting ad hoc audits to see what’s out there, but it also provides a holistic view for stakeholders to aid their decision-making processes and for technical staff working on automation leveraging metadata.

The Master List also comes in handy for another best practice, which is regularly reviewing what’s being collected and seeing how that aligns with present needs. This task should fall to the Metadata Advisory Council if your organization has one, with the goal of identifying whether to add any new fields or tags to meet business or technical requirements. The team can also employ frequency analysis to determine whether any tags should be downgraded from “mandatory,” retired or consolidated.

Consistently capturing metadata

Organizations must strike a balance between enforcing compliance and stifling productivity. Metadata is no exception. In a perfect world, everyone would have the time and patience to diligently add every tag for every possible type of metadata every time they upload a file to SharePoint or Microsoft Teams. But in reality, people are busy and look to cut corners rather than add additional steps.

Because organizations can’t suddenly impose onerous metadata tagging burdens on their employees without risking people boycotting systems altogether and creating shadow IT drama, it gets rolled out gradually and gently, with very few hard requirements. While this slow-roll approach may help colleagues acclimate at their own pace, at some point you just have to consistently collect certain types of metadata to actually make proper use of it. When this time comes, here are three ways to improve compliance.

First, identify the most valuable metadata fields and begin making those mandatory. While this will disrupt user workflows, if it’s limited to just the vital ones, it shouldn’t slow them down too much and your organization will begin amassing the metadata it needs.

Second, use tools that automatically collect metadata when files are uploaded to Teams or SharePoint. For example, when you copy or move emails to Teams using 365 suite, you get an email view populated with automatically extracted metadata fields such as who it was from and whether there were any attachments. This sets the stage to further leverage metadata for email management.

Third, if you’ve introduced a new metadata field or tag, don’t be afraid to accelerate classification and apply it to older files in bulk. If, for instance, you’re now tagging any files associated with a client and there are folders that only include files related to that client, you can just tag them retroactively rather than only capturing that info on net-new files.

Capturing metadata consistently

The third goal is all about conformity and error reduction. When users are asked to type in a value for a particular metadata field, you’re leaving a lot to chance. One person types in “USA,” the next “United States,” and the third “U.S.” They’re all correct, but those are three different values for the same place, which isn’t going to help much with automation and will muddle discovery.

To avoid this conundrum, whenever possible shift metadata entries to pick lists. It may at times tend to group files a little more broadly, but it’s much better than everyone entering their own bespoke entries… typos and misspellings included.

Bringing the value home

Getting users to adopt and comply with metadata mandates can only truly succeed when everyone is realizing the benefits. If metadata’s value remains purely abstract, it won’t resonate with some coworkers.

For organizations heavily using Microsoft Teams or SharePoint, there’s an opportunity to more easily connect those metadata-rich environments with the isolated world of Outlook, where workers spend the bulk of their time. With 365 suite, users can now drag-and-drop emails or their attachments directly into Teams or SharePoint and, just as easily, add secure links to files on Teams or SharePoint to their outgoing email messages. By bridging this gap and facilitating more collaboration in Teams or SharePoint, there will be even more metadata to utilize.

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