What is metadata and why is it as important as the data itself?

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Published October 31, 2017   |   

Being data-driven is no longer just “nice to have” for most companies. If we’re not currently leveraging our data to make better business decisions, then most of us are at least trying to get there. But with so much data out there in so many different systems, trying to be data-driven can literally drive one crazy.

Take any large company for example. It’s got at least a handful of systems from SAP Business Objects to DataStage to Hadoop to Qlik to Tableau to Informatica to Oracle to any other big data environment…each is packed with data that doesn’t really help us unless we’re able to piece it all together and make sense of it.

This is where metadata comes in. Metadata is the glue that holds all our data together and helps us align data sources so that we can understand our data and use it to make smarter decisions for our business. Without it, your data pretty much means nothing, which is why having a robust metadata management outfit is absolutely essential for today’s enterprises.

Metadata enables enterprises to:

1. Find the data. Let’s start basic. Let’s say you need to do something as simple as understanding what goes into making up a specific HR report. It’s hard to know where to even begin looking when you’ve got multiple systems that don’t speak the same language. The BI group likely will spend hours if not days manually sifting through all the different systems to find the exact ETL processes that load data into the tables and columns that make up the report. But the BI group often gets lost in the thousands of ETL processes within all the different systems that are loading data to the specific report. Metadata is what allows companies to find and use any of the information it has, a very critical first step in becoming data-driven.

2. Figure out what the data is saying. Once you’ve found a particular piece of data, the next step is to analyze it, compare it to other data, and understand what the data is actually telling you. Often times large enterprises don’t really know what information they have and therefore have a very hard time figuring out what their data is saying or how they can leverage it in their decision-making processes. Good metadata management allows companies to slice and dice large data sets and get a big picture idea of what’s going on across the organization. Centralized metadata management is what enables organizations to align data across multiple systems, in effect translating it all into one uniform language that can be clearly understood to make business data actionable.

3. Foster a more efficient use of time for the BI group. From locating the data to analyzing the data to understanding the data, metadata streamlines the process for BI groups, allowing them to be more efficient in their work. The enormous silos of today overwhelm organizations and must be navigated properly. It is metadata that makes this possible. Automated, centralized tools like Octopai Metadata Management empower BI groups, enabling them to focus on creating value to the organization as opposed to getting bogged down in manual data discovery.
With the amount of data available to us today growing exponentially, and more companies strive to become data-driven, they are quickly comprehending the critical role of metadata and are turning to metadata management solutions to guide them on their way.