Since the dawn of Document Management and Enterprise Content Management, metadata has been a topic in its own right. Metadata is information about information. Occasionally free to fill in and sometimes to choose from a closed list. On occasion to be filled in manually and occasionally done automatically. Metadata provides the context needed to properly record, manage and interpret data. Without metadata, you don’t know the meaning of the data, its origin and whether you can trust it. Metadata says something about a document that allows you to select the document to do something with it. Without having to read the entire document first. Metadata makes it possible to classify information. I’m happy to explain why metadata is hip again.
Metadata has always been important for information management. With digital transformation and the application of hyperautomation (including artificial intelligence), that importance has exploded. Without metadata, you don’t participate! Period. For that matter, we can’t do without metadata in our daily lives either. A beer bottle with an empty label does not inspire much confidence about the taste of its contents.
We used to sometimes buy cans without labels at a Unox store in Oss. Cans where something had gone wrong during label processing. We knew it was soup, but not what kind of soup. Or it were sausages but which ones? That remained a surprise until you opened it at home to eat. Of course this was fun, Only it really doesn’t work that way in your business processes… Information without a label. Information without metadata.
Why is this not an open door?
Last week, AIIM hosted a Virtual Summit on the theme of Customer-Centric Information Management. Reasoning from a Records Management-dominated view of information management, I get this theme. To me, it’s “just” intelligent information management. In fact, intelligent information management focuses on the value of information to both the internal and external customer.
A classic problem that arises – unfortunately I still have to write this in the present tense – is approaching information management from the perception of the records manager. As if that were the main argument for implementing information management at all. Only to find that one is not taken seriously enough. Budget holders, C-level decision makers and others involved in a company’s core business seem unwilling to see the importance of information management and therefore do not make money and time available.
AIIM is trying to change that by pointing out the importance of the internal and external customer. Hence Customer-Centric Information Management. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be an easy task in the world of Records Management given the presentations as well as the reactions during AIIM’s Virtual Summit.
Purely to illustrate the problem, let me give an example from one of the presentations. A records manager explains from her perception that metadata is needed as evidence to show that it was correct to have removed or properly retained information. “A maximum of 7 to 10 metadata fields of which no more than 2 should be filled manually by an employee. The other 5 to 8 should be filled automatically.” Someone responded by saying that metadata may also be necessary for employees to find the information they need. She apologizes by saying that her last two employers consider all information to be records and that it is indeed (you can hear her thinking: theoretically…) possible that someone might want to be able to find that information even if it is not a record….
The Maslow Principle
While it’s not entirely certain, who really originated it, I’m going to stick with Abraham Maslow for now. In any case, what he said is this: When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail. So I totally get that records manager. Her world is just making sure you have evidence so you can say “not guilty” in front of a judge. What I don’t understand is her story in the context of the theme. On the contrary, it is an example that does not fit into customer-centric information management. But of course I don’t have to understand everything….
What was interesting in her presentation, however, were the questions she asked and to which the participants responded. To stay with Maslow, gradually it became clear to everyone that there are multiple types of nails. Copper nails, stainless steel nails, concrete nails, drywall nails, headless nails etc. Perhaps the hammer can handle all types of nails, the application is always different. So is metadata.
New capabilities demand sufficient metadata
As part of hyperautomation, you can apply new capabilities such as artificial intelligence and robotic process automation. Techniques that will only become truly successful if the information they work with is properly (content-wise) and generously (scope-wise) metadata-enriched. It makes (almost) no difference whether that metadata was added manually or automatically. Maybe you’re deploying artificial intelligence to analyze and metadata a document. Applying the typical distribution curve for innovations, hyperautomation probably still falls into the Early Adopters group. Looking at opportunities that fall under Early Majority or even Late Majority, I think of Case Management.
A good case system requires reliable metadata
A good case system requires that all information be generously provided with good metadata. You may wonder, how a case system can benefit from that. I’ll give you some examples. As a knowledge worker on a case, you want to connect as much relevant related information to your case as possible. Have there been similar cases? To determine what is similar, you must have used metadata to consistently and correctly classify these and all previous cases. What other information do you need to handle the case? For example, based on case metadata, you can provide supporting information such as procedure descriptions, terms and conditions, contracts, instructions and perhaps even geographic information (Google Maps?) to the knowledge worker.
What has been the chosen treatment and final judgment of the case? With that metadata, you can determine early on what additional steps are needed for this case. Or which steps can most likely be skipped. The case system thus becomes adaptive. This will also clarify the gravity of the matter and allow for better distribution of the workload among knowledge workers.
Knowledge workers working on business remain human beings. If you want to deliver quality as an organization, you will need to capture metadata that allows you to recognize oddities. Cases that have the same characteristics should have the same handling and outcome from a quality standpoint. Deviation is still allowed, but with a clearly identifiable reason.
The richer the case is provided with metadata the easier it becomes later to apply advanced techniques. Techniques that simply underperform without classified information. Consider, for example, predictive statistics. The handling of one claim is not the other so you don’t get a good prediction if you lump everything together. Or consider cognitive analysis. It would be very strange when a negative sentiment is recognized in information that, based on the metadata, is supposed to give a positive result. This requires further analysis. Was the message not understood or the information misclassified?
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