No Data Left Behind: Are you leaving precious metadata on the table?

I had two interesting things happen recently that made me think about the metadata we leave behind. The first was with a networking organization's website. The choices on a particular pull down menu seemed to be arbitrary and I saw a missed opportunity to understand how the users are connected professionally. I felt compelled to email them my idea to make their choices more robust.

The second was the other day, overhearing a conversation at a coffee shop about software. One person raised the issue about deleting assets. I felt compelled to blurt, "You should never delete anything." Luckily, they didn't seem to mind my intrusive outburst. I explained that I have managed several asset management systems. Data can easily be made inaccessible. If you completely delete the asset and it's corresponding metadata, you will be asked for that asset's data eventually. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will understand why I am so passionate about lost data.

Most of us use some sort of database. This allows us to share information and make our daily lives easier. I have seen tools succeed and I have seen tools fail. A failed system means that precious gems of knowledge are floating out in space somewhere. To an asset manager, that is heart breaking. But not everyone sees the value in archiving information, especially when they can't see the benefits immediately.

In business, we are always looking forward and are under extreme pressure to keep up with the needs of our customers. Those who are grinding away on projects seldom have time to record what they are doing while they are doing it. It seems counter-intuitive. Most of us move too fast and our systems are always trying to catch up with us. Then when you least expect it, you are asked to re-work a rejected concept from two years back, or legal contacts you about a possible lawsuit and you need to pull everything referencing the image in question. It is for just that moment, that we regret ever telling our system administrator that the tool is useless or that we didn't have time to use it.

On the other side you have system administrators who may not have an understanding of the core function of the business. I disagree with the statement, "garbage in, garbage out." Sorry, data is not simply zeros and ones. Data has the ability to save your ass. It isn't garbage. It is important to understand what the data means to your organization and your customers.

Where does my passion for lost data stem from? It originates from being the person who receives the frantic requests from legal, finance, management, and production to pull information for audits, lawsuits, and planning. I know why we should never, under any circumstances, throw history away. But how do we know what data we have actually left on the table. What are we not recording that we will need in the future?

So without a crystal ball, how do we know what data we should be saving? Let's start with the greatest purpose for saving Analytics will save your butt or win an argument. No data, no analytics. We use analytics to scope, to resource, and to plan. What is the story that we want to tell with our data? Perhaps you want to add people to your team or want to see trends in your creative concepts. What case are your trying to make for yourself and for your employees?

Now let's take a look at our metadata and see what information might be missing. What could we have kept track of that could support our request? Once you see what is missing, you can make adjustments, or ask other teams if they are already tracking that information.

So after we write our user stories and reprioritize our sprints (for you agile aficionados), let's ask ourselves what story we want to tell with our data? Let's look at metadata as something that will drive us forward as we record our past.


Veronica Vallado