Metadata Management: Definition, Best Practices, and Benefits

Metadata management is one of several vital practices included in a holistic data governance program.  

What is metadata management? 

While other governance disciplines—data quality (DQ) or master data management (MDM)—apply to the actual information in a company’s systems, metadata management works with stores of “data about data”.   

Essentially, metadata management establishes and enforces enterprise-wide agreements on how to define data assets, enabling business users to locate and understand the business context for enterprise information. By doing so across an organization’s diverse data sources and types—in conjunction with data integration and data modeling efforts—the practice allows a company to organize and use its data assets in a way that produces actionable insights and drives business value.  

Why metadata management is important 

Data quality

If your enterprise information architecture contains low-quality and disorganized data, your users will have difficulty finding and leveraging the information they need to provide the business insights that drive critical decision making.    

Data discovery

Discovery is key for both your internal users and your external users. Internally, employees  need to quickly find specific data to perform business processes and make informed decisions. Your external customers and end users want to easily locate content that’s relevant to them; this is increasingly becoming part of the larger customer experience that companies need to deliver.   

Data usability

Your data needs to be labeled and categorized properly so that you can use it to its fullest capacity. With effective metadata management, you ensure the consistency and accuracy necessary to leverage your data across various business processes.  

Data governance

As data continues to increase in size and complexity, so does the importance of data governance. It’s up to your company to meet today’s regulatory and compliance requirements by keeping track of and responsibly using your data. If you can’t easily locate data assets, your organization may be in a costly bind.  

Best practices for effective metadata management

Create your strategy

To define the strategy that will provide the foundation for long-term metadata management, your team should consider:

  • Identifying and establishing data champions within your organization to promote and enforce proper metadata management policies to ensure buy-in from across all departments.
  • The types of information you need to manage metadata for, today and in the future (in most organizations, just 10 to 20 percent of total data is actually critical data)
  • Current and potential use cases for your metadata
  • Larger business objectives your metadata management will support
  • Ways to link your metadata management efforts to other key digital transformation initiatives

Determine scope

Establish the scope of your metadata management initiative by: 

  • Capturing functional requirements for the metadata use cases determined in the previous step
  • Assigning ownership and defining responsibilities clearly for different roles (creators, consumers, and managers)
  • Prioritizing data assets 

Find the right tool

Using the strategy and scope you’ve defined, determine the functionality your organization requires in a tool or tools for metadata management. With effective categorization, search and storage capabilities being at the top of the list, many companies choose a leading data catalog solution.  

Adopt standards

Determine which standards—Dublin Core Metadata Element Set or ISO 19115, for example—apply to your industry and your metadata use cases. By adopting these standards, your organization will be able to work within vendor and customer communities more easily.   

Make your practice enterprise-wide

Start at the top of your organization to ensure proper stewardship of your metadata management initiative and continue building support across the enterprise. Clearly communicating the benefits of easily usable, high-quality data for all stakeholders can help to bring people on board. This is where your data champions will be integral to socializing the strategy.  

The many benefits of metadata management

Better data quality

Effective metadata management systemically ensures data quality, identifying issues and inconsistencies in real time.   

Enhanced clarity

Metadata management helps you more clearly understand what data you have and how it’s relevant for specific activities and objectives. It provides the layer of conext you need to drive faster, better results.  

Faster speed to value

Without the right tools and practices in place, more than 80% of time is spent on managing data, searching for it, preparing it, and protecting it, with less than 20% of time left for actual analysis and getting value from it (source). A metadata management system handles a big portion of this management process, allowing knowledge workers to devote more of their time to data analysis and deliver insight far more quickly.     

Greater productivity

When your organization implements automated metadata management processes, you’ll get more done in less time. Seamless access to metadata and the automation of previously manual efforts boosts productivity related to data management tasks—and activities performed by data users—significantly.    

Compliance you can count on

Metadata management helps ensure that your data is discovered, harvested, and used in accordance with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Health Insurance and Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA), Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS), The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and other regulations. It automatically tags sensitive data, documents its lineage, and depicts its flow to trace use across workflows.   

Support for digital transformation

Your metadata management initiative can align with and advance your organization’s digital transformation efforts in several ways. By understanding what data you have, where it’s located, and the value it offers, you can improve the digital experience you deliver, perform data preparation and analysis projects more quickly, and drive innovation to create new products and services. 

Improved knowledge retention

Metadata management retains business rules, definitions, and other vital contextual knowledge that can be lost if it remains in the minds of employees who eventually leave your organization.  

Increased confidence in your data

When you ensure quality and provide the context your business users need, they have greater confidence in the data they’re relying on for business-critical tasks and decision making.   

Enterprise metadata management in action: A Matillion case study

Read our case study to learn how Pacific Life implemented a metadata management solution that enables the insurance provider to ingest, transform, and publish data five times faster.

Andreu Pintado
Andreu Pintado