While many companies are gleaning powerful business intelligence by extracting valuable insights from their big data, most of them are only harnessing a fraction of their information assets. That’s because tools for managing and analyzing the massive volumes of a company’s information assets generally focus on structured data. If companies also include all the unstructured content they manage as part of their big data strategy, it stands to reason they will garner even more business value.
The key to doing so is to employ metadata (little data), which is defined as “data about data.” By appending metadata attributes to all sorts of unstructured content – Word documents, videos, presentations, PDF files, spreadsheets, emails and the like – companies can make that content easily searchable and accessible via enterprise content management (ECM) systems. Metadata-driven ECM solutions make it easy for employees to conduct searches and find content wherever it may reside, which then enables companies to glean valuable business insights from their unstructured content just as they do from their structured data.
Such is the power of little data, which enables organizations to identify associations and relationships between disparate data objects, even if they live in different applications, whether stored on-site or in the cloud. Consider a software salesperson preparing to meet with a customer in hopes of encouraging the customer to upgrade to the latest version. With a simple search on the customer name, the ECM solution enables the salesperson to uncover several open support requests in the queue, after which he contacts the support group to get a status update. Instead of pitching the upgrade to the customer during the meeting the next day, the salesperson tells the customer he looked into the support issue and they can expect a fix within two days. He lets the upgrade discussion wait for a couple of weeks until the dust settles and at that time finds the client more than willing to listen, and still grateful for the help with the support issue. The upgrade is soon in the works.
That’s the kind of power that a metadata-driven approach to big data can bring to organizations: enabling more informed approaches to and decisions around all sorts of business issues.
In addition, the little data approach delivers several other benefits, including:
- Eliminating duplicate information: With the ability for employees to easily find any document no matter where it’s stored, employees no longer have to worry about “version creep.” The information asset remains in a single location, but any user with authorized access can easily find and use it without the proliferation of multiple drafts in multiple locations.
- Automating manual processes: An ECM system that is truly metadata-based can enable companies to automate many manual processes. A document with the “Contract” metadata attribute, for example, can be automatically be routed to the sales manager and the legal office for review. Once each of them signs off, the sales person receives an automated notification letting her know, and another process is automatically initiated to send the order to fulfillment.
- Ensuring compliance: Each change to a piece of content is tracked by the ECM systems, leaving an audit trail behind that details who made what changes and when. This comprehensive log of activity can be crucial in industries that must meet regulatory compliance standards.
- Protecting confidential and sensitive information: Metadata can be used to ensure only authorized users can access, edit or share sensitive documents. Access permissions can be assigned dynamically to each document or object, depending on what it is. The enterprise could have a policy that any document labeled “finance,” for example, may be viewed only by the finance group and CFO.
It’s time that companies unlock the true potential of their unstructured content that makes up vast amounts of their big data portfolio. Leveraging metadata, or little data, is an effective way to do just that. A metadata-driven approach enables enterprises to derive additional value from their unstructured content through more effective data organization and improved collaboration among employees. At the same time, it eliminates the duplication of data, enables process automation and improves compliance and security.
Contributed by: Mika Javanainen, 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.
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