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The Crucial Role of Metadata



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Aligning corporate information governance and content was the focus of a keynote speech by Lt. Col. David S. Sanchez, deputy program manager, USAF Pilot Physician Program, Air Force Medical Service (AFMS).

In his remarks at the 2012 KMWorld Conference in October, Sanchez emphasizes the importance of tagging documents with metadata. He also describes the knowledge discovery objectives the Air Force Medical Service faces. Those include:

  • automating the collection, fusion, analysis and dissemination of unstructured information;
  • rapidly delivering relevant information to users from multiple information repositories, such as the AFMS Knowledge Exchange; and 
  • ensuring positive outcomes.

The sooner the AFMS can capture unstructured information and process it in a manner aligned to its mission, Sanchez says, the sooner it results in a positive impact on the mission. He describes the operational challenges of knowledge management as: lack of information transparency, non-compliance with records management policies and an increasing volume of unplanned data exposure events.

Sanchez stresses the importance of tagging every document with metadata. "We see that for absolutely every document that's created within the federal space, there's an expectation to tag ... So when I create a document and put it in a file share, put it into SharePoint or Oracle collaboration suite, I have 27,000 metadata tags that I have to consider to apply to that content. That's a problem. That's a human behavior problem. It's also a human factor problem."

While Sanchez may know from his perspective what metadata to apply to a document, someone else would have a different perspective on what metadata to apply to that very same document, based on individual background and career experience. "So that's a real problem for us," Sanchez says.

The same is true when it comes to records management. Sanchez's background in health services might lead him to choose a certain retention code for a document, while someone with a background in operations might give priority to a different retention code.

Also, where the document is placed determines access rights and how it's distributed. If placed erroneously, the information becomes vulnerable. Sanchez says his organization has had information placed in knowledge management portals that has shown up where it shouldn't and gets distributed to places where it shouldn't be distributed.

"What we're seeing on a lot of portals we have now," Sanchez says, "is inadequate metadata. We have wrong content types, which are driving the wrong policies, and we have the wrong content categorizations. We have multiple systems doing different things here, and all of them are resulting in inadequate policies being applied to our data."

Sanchez says that when he talks about policies he's referring to:

  • access policies-making information available to the right people,
  • information rights management policies-preventing misuse of information,
  • information management/records management policies-ensuring proper preservation of information, and
  • workflow policies-ensuring appropriate coordination of information.

In re-emphasizing the importance of metadata, Sanchez says, "The more metadata you have for a document, the more beneficial that it's going to be for transparency and classification ... You need to have metadata to get full value out of your investment.

"He says that information classification and retrieval are 100 percent dependent on metadata. Information that has been filed away using key words results in documents that are most likely only found by the person who filed that document. And, Sanchez adds, information retrieval based on key word searches brings back so many extraneous results that people get frustrated and give up.

To view the full presentation, watch the video below. For more KMWorld 2012 presentations visit our video page.


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