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How to leverage active metadata: unlocking business impacts

The first article in our metadata series highlighted the various sources in which your organization is already storing and pulling metadata from. This article will help organizations understand the difference between active and passive metadata as well as how to begin utilizing their active metadata to unlock immediate business impacts.

Metadata has always played an important role in an organization’s data governance efforts. The traditional approach is to capture, tag and organize data so users can easily reference it in the future. This has led organizations to view metadata as little more than a system to categorize the large quantities of data in their environment. This mindset leaves operational benefits on the table, making it increasingly difficult to justify the time and effort that goes into metadata maintenance. When organizations struggle to understand metadata’s use in the overall organizational success, the effort is destined to fail.

Organizations should stop focusing on cataloging their metadata and start actively taking advantage of it now. Your organization already has a wealth of metadata present in your applications, databases and file shares. If we focus less on structuring and organizing it for the long term, and more on simply exploring it and using it for business impacts and opportunities in the short term, we can uncover a plethora of business value to be gained from your metadata today.

Utilizing passive vs active metadata

The key to unlocking the immediate metadata impact lies in identifying the difference between passive and active metadata. Most metadata used today is considered passive metadata: data tagged and stored for future use. While passive metadata shouldn’t be dismissed, finding immediate business cases in your active metadata can provide immediate business outcomes for your data governance program.

Passive metadata

Passive metadata is reference data which describes your database objects, security classifications, and application configurations. This is basic information about your data that should be utilized by your business and technical teams to understand and properly use data. It’s critical to track your passive metadata, as it provides benefits to your organization in terms of privacy and security, organizing your data, building reference materials, and maintaining data integrity. Your organization likely is already collecting and using some percentage of the necessary passive metadata you’ll need, and it’s a worthwhile endeavor. However, you should also be looking for metadata uses that provide quick impacts and that’s going to be seen through active metadata usage.

Active metadata

Active metadata covers real-time tracking of everything that people are doing with the data and what they’re using it for. When looking to create immediate business impacts with your active metadata, it’s important to ask yourself: What are things you can do tangibly with the metadata today? What are some active metadata sources you could staff your project or IT team with looking into the generate quick wins? The following outlines four immediate business impacts utilizing your active metadata can provide your organization:

Enabling cross-team collaboration

In your organization, report usage, data queries, and security roles track who is using the data and how exactly they’re using it. This information can provide key insights into which teams may be accessing the same data set or master data area. If they don’t currently work together, having this insight can provide an opportunity to share that connection with those teams. This will spur cross-team communication regarding how to best use this data and encourage productive conversations on how it can be leveraged better. Utilizing your active metadata can bring teams or individuals together that otherwise may not be aware of their shared data use.

Cross-team collaboration enables opportunities for team members to learn more about the data they use frequently from the perspective of another person or team. This can also provide the opportunity to help identify who in the organization may not be utilizing it to its fullest extent, if at all. For example, if a high-performing sales manager is running the same report every day to drive a lot of their prospects and calls, this could be an opportunity to share that report with other managers who aren’t. The more a particular data set or master data area is being utilized throughout your organization, the more immediate business impacts it can have.

Discovering insights and patterns

Master data management system metadata, data lake metadata, and relational database metadata can be utilized identify redundant data stored in two separate locations, possibly from two different sources. Knowing this provides your organization with an opportunity to clean up any duplicative data, which will lower costs, improve data quality, and ensure the source-of-truth has always been utilized. Likewise, metadata can provide insight into helpful data sources in your platform that aren’t currently being and should be.

When a data redundancy is identified, the owner of the data can then establish where the most accurate version of the data is being stored. For example, if you identified a redundancy in financial data, the accounting team, the finance team, or the CFO should determine which system is the correct upstream source of the data. Once the correct system has been endorsed, the data team can identify who is using the incorrect system and create a plan to transition them over to the correct software or data source.

Increasing resource management

Active metadata can provide your organization the opportunity to look into your data flow jobs, report usage, data lake storage accounts, and relational database data to identify underutilized resources. Large sections of data that are currently being stored or processed that are not being used much may indicate the data is outdated, unreliable, or not useful to the business. Storing and processing data can be expensive and is likely wasting time for data engineers and analysts who are maintaining it. This metadata insight highlights an opportunity to clean up unnecessary data assets, providing immediate positive impacts on your organization with a maintenance cost reduction.

Identifying security risks

Metadata surrounding report usage and security roles provides insights to data owners in those areas to be reviewed from a security perspective. These metadata sources can often go unmonitored and unreviewed for too long and can represent a liability risk, especially for sensitive data. With data privacy regulations gaining more traction, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), in addition to other protected information classes, this step should not be overlooked. To mitigate security risks, it’s essential for your organization to continue to review data access to ensure it’s being managed correctly.

In addition to reducing maintenance costs, underutilized datasets also represent an unnecessary security risk. Sensitive data, especially if it doesn’t serve legitimate business purposes, may leave organizations vulnerable to data breaches with legal or financial consequences. By having access to this metadata, you can discern what data should be archived or depreciated.

How to profile metadata to identify opportunities

There are three steps organizations can take to identify opportunities for immediate business value through the use of metadata insights.

Step 1: Have a chief data and analytics officer (CDAO) in place

To begin utilizing your active metadata, you will need executive sponsorship in the form of a CDAO or other business leader to help prioritize and lead the efforts. Some people in your organization may not understand the value in using your active metadata or be able to prioritize it above other efforts. Having a leader to champion the change can help to keep the organization aligned on supporting these efforts.

Step 2: Work closely with data owners or subject matter experts

Your organization’s active metadata efforts need to be aligned with the needs of data owners. Data owners are individuals who have been identified as subject matter experts in a particular data source or domain. If your organization has a formal data governance program in place, this person will have already been identified. If not, your data owners are the people most familiar with the specific area or application of the data. Active metadata efforts cannot be a solo IT effort, they have to be in collaboration with the data owners. When questions arise regarding reports, data sets, or applications, your IT team will have a resource to help make difficult decisions.

Step 3: Remember that active metadata efforts are an iterative process

Active metadata efforts are not a one and done project, but an iterative process that should be integrated into everyday business practices. You should begin by using your metadata to find the areas that can provide the largest business impacts with simple changes, tackling those changes, following up with those impacted, and then communicating the win to leadership before you begin the process over. Eventually, the organization should understand that leveraging this data is part of the continuous benefits of data governance.

How we can help support your active metadata efforts

Most organizations likely already have passive metadata efforts in place to structure and organize their data. The opportunity remains to expand these metadata efforts into active metadata, assessing it for potential business impacts and outcome-based projects. Organizations’ data governance program must expand from simply capturing documentation to discovering actionable insights to provide immediate business value.

The process of structuring your active metadata efforts, as outlined above, should be part of your organization’s larger data governance plan. Baker Tilly Digital can help your organization continue to compete in the modern business world, using data more efficiently to gain insights and accelerating your strategic objectives. Our CDAO advisory services can provide the support needed to champion this change throughout your organization. To learn more about accelerating your active metadata efforts, contact one of our professionals.

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