Document Metadata: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

This guide covers everything you need to know about metadata, why it's important for your business, and how it makes information management easier.

  • Brianna Valleskey
    Head of Marketing
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A recent report shows managers lose 62% of their days on "work about work." For example, communicating with employees and clients, switching between apps, chasing status updates, managing shifting priorities, and searching for data and information. 

Locating documents and finding information was cited as time-wasters by 58% of employees — taking up 3.6 hours of their workday (over 900 hours per year). 

The stress and hassle of searching for the correct document data leave employees feeling burned out, impacting their productivity and retention. And it piles on more losses to your business from missing resources at critical times and draining your bottom line. 

Smart financial institutions turn to document metadata to make information easier to find.

This guide covers everything you need to know about metadata, why it's important for your business, and how it makes information management easier.

What is document metadata?

Document metadata is structured, non-visual information embedded into a video file, web page, or another file format.

Document metadata is structured, non-visual information embedded into a video file, web page, or another file format. It describes and explains the characteristics of the data for easier sorting, routing, storage, and control.

This electronic fingerprint allows users in your organization to understand and track important work details. Plus, it offers more context for users as they search for information, classify documents, and mark them for internal or public use. 

Metadata is often confused with master and reference data. But they differ in their functions and the type of data they hold:

  • Master data: Core data elements about your products (e.g., a loan product's master data shows the loan type, capital amount, or contract start/end dates) or customers (names, addresses, contact information, etc.).
  • Reference data: Classifies and groups data elements (e.g., customer type, gender, industry type, phone number type, etc.), providing lists you can select when entering data into your business systems. 

Metadata is not the actual data, so it doesn't give raw access to anyone who accesses the document. For instance, you can know the summary details about a document, but it's just enough to understand what the file is about—but not enough to see its actual contents.

Specifically, metadata provides identifying information about the document, such as the:

  • Author
  • Date of creation
  • File size
  • Company
  • Keywords that describe the document
  • Contact information
  • Geographic location
  • Tracked changes
  • Versions
  • Hidden text
  • Embedded objects

In the financial industry, metadata helps with information exchange, particularly in transaction or report formats. Lenders possess, handle, and maintain a wealth of specific types of information on customer profiles, deposit and loan accounts, bank investments, corporate accounting, and market research. 

To accommodate all this content, lending systems use distinct information formats:

  • Numeric
  • Textual
  • Graphic
  • A combination of the three

For example, information on individual deposits or loans is usually numeric. Borrower signatures store in graphic formats. And market research may include textual, numeric, and sometimes graphic representations.

Some lenders use document management systems configured to handle file types like:

  • Word-processed documents
  • Spreadsheets
  • Slide presentations
  • Digital files (audio or video)
  • Web pages

Others store this full range of file types on an internal (shared) network drive.

Types of document metadata

From a business perspective, users create metadata in the following distinct classes:

  • Descriptive metadata: contextual data about a document for discovery and identification that includes data such as the document's title, subject, and purpose
  • Administrative metadata: essential information and instructions about your documents that helps you manage, archive, and preserve the files, including details like the file's creator, date created, location (drive or server), digital ownership and rights, access restrictions, and how to update or repurpose it
  • Structural metadata:shows data about an object's location in a hierarchy, sequence, or file structure, and how it's formatted and assembled (his way, it's easier to search and access the document across your organization, and includes details such as file type, date created, and purpose)
  • Technical metadata: displays data about an object's form, size, and specifications critical for easier migration and the file's long-term sustainability
  • Rights metadata: provides data about the copyright, holder, status, and relevant licenses of objects
  • Preservation metadata: facilitates management and document access over time, assuring users that the file isn't lost or corrupted

Other types of metadata include audio, process, environmental, and relational-database metadata.

The role of metadata in document management

A risk management professional reviews documents during an account opening or underwriting process.

The primary value of metadata lies in how it aligns with and supports your organization's goals and objectives. Your employees can't re-use or interpret data responsibly without it. 

Here are some reasons metadata is an invaluable tool for lenders:

  • It creates structure for easier document discovery, retrieval, and control.
  • It provides a means of adding structure and control to paper-heavy processes.
  • It's a reference point for document management tools, making document access as easy as finding information via search engines. 
  • It helps classify, organize, track, and retain information associated with a document's record schedule.
  • It makes documents ready and accessible to the relevant stakeholders for viewing and management; eases information sharing and collaboration, and improves workflow. 
  • It validates user access and edit rights, flags security settings, and controls distribution.
  • It enables users to target queries based on certain keywords like author, date, or subject for easier document retrieval.
  • It makes future auditing easy, which is necessary for compliance in a highly regulated industry.

Standards and metadata: What to document about your data

To be effective, metadata must be understandable and precise. Otherwise, other users in your organization won't understand what it means. That's why you need a set of metadata standards for particular file formats to guide users on what metadata elements to expect in each document. 

Here are some suggested metadata properties to document your data:

  • Title: name of the department that produced the document
  • Creator/Author: name and address of the person/people who created the data
  • Identifier number: the unique code, number, or alphanumeric string that identifies your data for reference
  • Dates: key dates (start/end/modification/release) associated with the data
  • Subject: phrases or keywords describing the content of the document
  • Rights: any known digital or intellectual property rights for the data
  • Location: the physical or virtual location of the document
  • Language: the language(s) of the content in the document
  • Methodology: how the data was generated (tools or software used)
  • Format: the format (physical and logical) of the document
  • Access restrictions: where and how other users can access the document, including the policies, legislation, and caveats that govern data access
  • Use history: date and description of attempts (legal or illegal) to access and use the document from its registration into the system to disposal
  • Disposal: information about the conditions and policies pertaining to or controlling authorized disposal of the document

You can keep your document metadata records in a CSV file or spreadsheet for quick reference. And include additional information like codes, abbreviations, or acronyms needed to interpret the metadata as supporting documentation.

Document metadata best practices

Whenever you create a document, the metadata of that file is included but often hidden from end users during the process.

Whenever you create a document, the metadata of that file is included but often hidden from end users during the process. 

External parties harvesting corporate information can be exceptionally damaging to your business. So it's critical to safeguard usernames, email addresses, and installed software packages from publicly available document metadata. 

Hackers can use email addresses for targeted phishing attacks on employees or customers, compromising their devices, and leading to massive loss of sensitive company data. Your entire information system could become the target for further attacks, leading to even further damage to other systems within your corporate network.

To protect your company's documents from falling into the wrong hands, use a set of document metadata best practices. Otherwise, it'll be difficult to keep sensitive and confidential information away from prying eyes and criminals. 

Use an accepted standard or authority list in the financial industry to retrieve and index your data, making management of business metadata easier. 

Here are some of the most common document metadata best practices:

  • Use intelligent software to analyze your document metadata: There are tools to examine every detail of your documents, including file structure, pixels, and metadata. Inscribe scans documents to analyze metadata for suspicious behavior and non-visual evidence, classifies documents, and even detects fraud.
  • Save your files in formats that don't store (or have limited) metadata: Instead of sharing images in JPEG format, use PNG. Rather than sharing Word documents, convert them into .txt or .rtf formats. 
  • Consider the impact of any file you send or post if it contains metadata: This is true if you post photos or videos to your company's official social media pages.
  • Develop a metadata strategy: Develop a strategy that offers a foundation for assessing long-term value and supports your organization's vision and objectives.
  • Make it an enterprise-wide ongoing process: Onboard and engage your team to get total support for your metadata strategy. Define and implement metadata lifecycle management and plan for an ongoing process that scales as your organization grows.
  • Adopt metadata standards: Metadata standards assure uniform usage and interpretation of your customers, vendors, and employees. Once you're clear about these standards, select and apply what's appropriate to your organization.

Streamline document management procedures with Inscribe

Many organizations still rely on paper-based processes. But that makes it harder for employees to find data, consumes more time, and lowers their productivity. 

Remedying these inefficiencies requires streamlining document management procedures, which include implementing document metadata standards to manage the flow of documents across the organization.

With Inscribe, you can analyze your a document’s metadata and detect any suspicious behavior before it damages your brand. 

Talk to an Inscribe expert today to find out how Inscribe can help with your formal document management procedures.

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