How metadata helps organizations secure their data

Ensure authorized use of your content with the right metadata

Organizations have many different types of content – even if the digital files types are the same. 

A PDF within a financial institution could be anything from a void cheque to a pre-authorized debit agreement.  

A spreadsheet file in a large oil and gas company could be anything from a budget to a GANTT chart. 

One way organizations manage this volume of content is by grouping similar types of content together through classification or categorization. They do this by putting similar content in the same place or by harnessing the power of robust metadata management. 

In practice, this looks like: 

  • An insurance agent classifying a document as containing Personal Identifiable Information (PII)
  • A government employee classifying a document as containing national security secrets
  • A doctor classifying an image of an x-ray as Personal Health Information (PHI)

The security of these different types of information is improved by classifying them appropriately.

When metadata management slips, access and usage control slips as well

Through proper classification with metadata, the insurance agent helps ensure that only people in the personal injury and accidents group can access the customer’s claim form. 

The government employee ensures that only people with the right “need to know” access control permissions can read or edit that sensitive national security content. In fact, systems can read the security classification metadata and ensure that the document is not sent as an email attachment or saved on a local hard drive.

For the doctor or other healthcare professional, adding metadata ensures that the X-ray image is integrated into a patient’s electronic medical records, and can only be accessed by clinicians with permission.

Unfortunately, metadata management often sits on the backburner for organizations. 

Manual metadata management is a mighty headache for enterprises

So why does this happen?  

Metadata management may seem relatively straightforward at the individual file level, but when you consider the zettabytes of data enterprises are poised to own over the coming years, it’s easy to see how quickly metadata management can become way meatier than organizations can chew. 

The trouble is that data is created so quickly and proper metadata management can be so granular that this data hygiene activity isn’t as seamless as 21st century workers would like. And so unstructured data, like documents, PDFs, audio files, and video files, grows at a rapid rate while organizations struggle to keep up with it. 

It’s possible to automate your metadata management

Metadata management seems like a boring, insurmountable task. After all, who wants to spend hours every day right clicking on documents to update their properties? But it doesn’t have to be this complicated. In reality, solutions exist that can help you automate the process of metadata management.

  1. Use a data discovery tool to crawl your target repositories and create an inventory of all of your unstructured data
  2. Assess the existing metadata to see if it’s robust enough
  3. Enrich your metadata, so users have all the information they need 

This ensures that your files are:

  • Used appropriately
  • Capturing the appropriate value (e.g., licensing, usage, royalties)
  • Only viewable by the correct individuals by assigning the correct access controls and automatically moving them to the appropriately-secured repositories

Deliver greater business value with enriched unstructured data

It doesn’t end there. Once you have a properly-updated inventory, you can then use it to derive additional business value.

For example, whether it’s the insurance, national security, or healthcare examples above, adding appropriate metadata makes it easy for senior management or system administrators to understand the volumes and use of data without needing the permissions to read the content. For instance, by reading the “security classification metadata” a security manager in a specific government agency can see that there are 300 documents tagged as Secret, and they are created at a rate of about one percent per day.

You can also offer a more robust enterprise search solution that saves time and minimizes cost to recover information, making it easy for your content to be found by authorized employees and customers. 

Interested in learning more? Sign up for our upcoming webinar, “Findability Fuel: What your organization needs to power rich enterprise search” with our Principal Evangelist Jed Cawthorne to learn more. Save your spot here.

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