Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Standard issue

Standard issue

  • Article 4 of 26
  • M-iD, February 2004

The need to exchange digital information between organisations is creating demand for metadata that defines that information.

Page 1 | Page 2 | All 2 Pages

Metadata is an essential weapon in the information manager's armoury. Commonly defined as 'data about data', it ensures that information is well-defined, can be managed consistently and readily located.

Take, for example, a visit to a library: metadata such as who wrote a book, who published it and when is often critical in order to ensure that a reader leaves with the right content. In fact, libraries have long had their own system for managing book metadata - it is known as the Dewey Decimal system.

Digital systems, by contrast, have been forced to rely on a vast range of proprietary metadata approaches. But the combined pressures of interoperability, legislation, business process agility and regulatory compliance are now pushing organisations in both the public and private sectors to explore new and more standardised ways of using metadata.

At even the most basic level, metadata is a valuable, if not vital, tool for establishing the meaning and location of information. Without it, for instance, a simple field like '20030906' has no meaning at all. It could be a unique identifier or, alternatively, a date stamp indicating when the record was first created, last modified, most recently viewed or when it is scheduled for deletion. Without a standard for metadata storage, moreover, the field in question - if it were a date - could be entered or stored as '20030906', '6th September 2003', '06/09/03' or even '9th June 2003', depending upon which employee entered the data or from which computer system the data originates.

This confusion is exacerbated where data is shared between partners. Even with a standard that is accepted within one organisation, to another organisation that information can be meaningless or at least open to misinterpretation: does the 'modification date' apply to the whole record or to a particular field and is it changed if a record is scheduled for deletion or is there another field for the deletion date date?

Compliance challenge
As users become more concerned with the interoperability of data, so interest in metadata standards grows. Currently, the most enthusiastic proponents of metadata standardisation in the UK are public sector bodies, and in particular, local authorities. Of these, around 19% are already using automated meta-tagging technology, according to a report conducted by MarketingUK on behalf of personalisation software specialist APR Smartlogik.

The large numbers of agencies and public bodies that need to exchange data electronically with each other has forced the UK government to introduce a metadata framework, heavily based on the international Dublin Core standard. This, it is hoped, will enhance interoperability and searchability.

The overall aim is for all public bodies to be using the e-government metadata standard (e-GMS) by 2005. “All public sector resources published on an external network or entered into internal systems must carry metadata complying with the e-GMS,” says documentation from the Office of the e-Envoy.

These efforts may help to speed up the progress of so-called 'joined-up government' initiatives. More importantly, they may even help to save lives: “There are some high profile cases where data has been moved around, such as the Victoria Climbie case. Had [the authorities involved] been able to move case notes efficiently and in a timely manner between agencies, her death might have been avoided,” says Adam Lee, product marketing manager at electronic document management company Tower Technology.

Partially in response to the Climbie case, health and social services bodies have been developing metadata schemas so they can exchange information without having to rely on human intervention - that is, a member of staff attempting to work out what the data is for and how it should be used.

Page 1 | Page 2 | All 2 Pages

Interested in commissioning a similar article? Please contact me to discuss details. Alternatively, return to the main gallery or search for another article: