Combine Master Data and Meta Data to find information and improve administration effort

Master Data and Meta Data combined

This blog was created in collaboration with Chiel Harmsen of Transcriptum.

Co-workers want to find relevant information quickly. They need to do a good job efficiently. Information administrators have limited time to classify and maintain information for co-workers. The challenge increases due to the rapidly increasing volume of information (every 18-24 months the volume doubles) and due to the large diversity of information types (documents, email, audio, video, chat, discussions, wikis, databases, webpages, etc.)

An example is the traditional departmental shared drive. Typically each department is given a part on a file server to store and share their electronic information. A department would create a (deep) structure of folders to structure their information that works for its co-workers. Rapidly there will be hundreds and thousands of folders in an organisation.

A challenge is to get a good overview because in Windows explorer you would see the folders and you have to navigate to documents. Another challenge is that the structure’s fit for purpose will diminish and changing the structure is a lot of work.

In many organisations the traditional departmental shared drive has been replaced with SharePoint sites or supplemented with SharePoint sites. Often the shared drive structure has been transplanted to sites and libraries in the SharePoint system because there is limited use of Meta Data.

Why is Meta Data important?

Meta Data are statements about information:

  • This document is authored by John
  • This document has the status approved
  • This document is a Contract
  • This document is for customer Acme

Meta Data has a crucial role in the management and finding of information. For the management information is labelled with Meta Data. For example creation date and modified date, author, department, client, product, document type, retention period, status, etc. The Meta Data is used to ensure proper storage and start the right approval and publication workflows. Also the destruction can be arranged.

In order to find information also Meta Data has an important role. Finding information is dependent on the context. The Meta Data contains the context to help finding relevant information.

The creation of a good Meta Data structure and values is essential to improve the quality of meta.

If Meta Data is used and there is an intelligent search engine in place, it still remains a challenge to find information because departments have there own rules regarding Meta Data or the Meta Data provided is not a good fit with the business processes and/or systems within the organisation. Another challenge is too keep the Meta Data up to date.

To address this we propose to connect Master Data from business applications to Meta Data. The quality of the Meta Data increases because there is an owner, for example for personnel data or client data, who can be contacted in case of issues. This creates a source of the truth across different applications and processes. The advantage for the end-user is that the same Master Data is available in different systems. This increases the ease of finding information. For the administrator it is easier because s/he can use value lists. This reduces the administration burden and increases accuracy. An additional benefit is that there may be opportunities to automatically add Meta Data.

What is Master Data?

All information used within an organisation is related to processes, products, clients, suppliers, co-workers, resources and/or systems. These are the business objects of the organisation. The information that your want to find or administrate, is also often related to the same business objects.

Master Data is data about the business objects. The Master Data is usually created and managed in systems such as ERP, CRM, HRM, Facility Management, Case Management. etc.

Example: HR is the information owner of personnel data such as a personnel identification, function and line manager. The personnel identification can be the basis to provide a co-worker and his/her line manager access to his/her automatically created personnel file. This is something that already exists in many organisations. Information about the co-worker can also be used in a Learning Management system to provide an appropriate training curriculum or in a Knowledge Management portal provide suggestions for relevant knowledge. This means that training opportunities and knowledge needs to have Meta Data that is based on the functions within the organisation.

To be successful with this approach there are a number of prerequisites:

  1. The business processes are well defined and implemented. Some processes will not benefit from this approach because by the time Master Data is available through data governance processes there will be different priorities. For example a one off project to do market research regarding a specific development should not be dependent on Master Data being available.
  2. Master Data needs to have high quality. For example if an organisation’s structure changes this needs to be available quickly
  3. Good communication and alignment between the information owner and the information consumers of Master Data (for Meta Data) is required to ensure that the Master Data is available on time.
  4. The information owner needs to have a excellent understanding of the downstream usage of the Master Data. This will mean to do activities that benefit your colleague but there is little direct benefit for he information owner.
  5. Good integration capabilities to ensure changes are received on time and accurate by business processes and business applications. Sometimes this is not always possible due to limitations of the receiving application. In those cases it is important to implement a process to achieve the same.

Example: In many organisations projects are supported by collaboration solutions such as SharePoint and project / program management applications for example MS Project Server. When each project receives Meta Data, for example the person owning the project, the department of the owner and the project number, then it is easier to search for all projects of the owner, allocate costs to a department


The original blog (in Dutch) was posted here