What is Metadata?

We all know the metadata definition explaining that metadata — sometimes incorrectly spelled as "meta data" — is “data about data.” Although pithy, that definition leaves out many of metadata’s critical functions in data governance.

Metadata transforms data into an invaluable asset for your organization. At its most basic, it provides information about data including what it is, when it was created and by whom, where it is stored, who has access to it, and who owns it.

In this sense, an easily understandable metadata example would be the data that accompanies a music file stored on your phone; to help you find and understand the file, the metadata would include information like artist’s name, album name, song name, genre, and more.

But modern metadata offers significantly greater benefits that — according to a recent report from Gartner — “provide unified views for business and form the foundation for the emerging capabilities of the data fabric.”

“I Never Metadata I Didn’t Like…”

As SanjMo’s Sanjeev Mohan is fond of saying, “I never metadata I didn’t like.” And what’s not to like? Afterall, data by itself only becomes valuable when it’s given context, and it’s metadata that does just that; giving context to data in order to foster understanding and turn it into knowledge.

Gartner recently highlighted the many advanced functions of metadata in their “Quick Answer: Why Do D&A Leaders Need to Care Right Now if Data and Metadata are Different?” report.

Among these, metadata “makes using data more productive and more certain by making it:”

But perhaps the most valuable function of metadata is enabling understanding across business functions to create real business value from all your data.

Now You’re Speaking My Language

In any company moving toward dataops, data democratization and data self-service, ensuring the quality of your metadata is crucial. That’s because the vast majority of your business users are likely non-technical, and metadata bridges the gap between your business users — data consumers — and technical data owners.

Metadata helps business users find and understand the data they need to make informed decisions. And, as explained by Gartner, “It is also foundational to the emerging capabilities of the data fabric and the use of active metadata practices to describe the use of the data.”

But metadata’s power is negated if it, like other types of data, isn’t carefully managed; for this reason, rigorously managed metadata is a priority for any company hoping to establish a data fabric or data mesh methodology across their business.

Properly Managed Metadata Bridges the Gap Between Business and IT

Metadata provides a vernacular for your enterprise's business users and your IT team’s technical data curators; it helps these teams to work together and turn data into valuable business knowledge.

But like other forms of data, it needs to be carefully managed to ensure its value, and both your business users and technical data stewards need to work together in order to make it as beneficial as possible for your organization at large.