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What is metadata?

Some people find metadata a little bit confusing, but in reality, it’s relatively straightforward, it simply means data about other data. That means information about who the data such as when was it created, what format is it in, etc.

And why do we need that?

The first and most obvious reason – data on its own is hard to understand. I could take a number, something like “97503525”. In and of itself, that doesn’t tell us anything. It’s just a piece of data (a set of numbers here). However, when it’s put inside a column and that column is given a header, which is the metadata.

Lo and behold, actual useful information!

That header informs me that it’s a phone number, and then all of a sudden we can interpret that. We can derive meaning from it and in this case, potentially call a person with that number. We can also test whether that number is valid and we can put some rules around them to make sure that it fits certain formats. For example.

Information in the columns here usually adheres to certain rules. You most likely can’t have emails without the @ symbol or mobile numbers with alphabets in them.

Enriching your organization’s metadata is one of the key deliverables that data governance will help you create. The reason to do that is to make things easier to understand and to make the data you have something that can be used. Data on its own doesn’t have any value at all. Only when people can understand it and put that data to use can you unlock value from it.