The recent Prism kerfuffle has brought an arcane topic to public discussion. So, what are you doing about your metadata?
Metadata, as the word itself suggests, is the data on the data in your enterprise. In a old-school mail analogy, metadata is the envelope that contains the letters and notes with which you're usually concerned. The law about metadata (at least in the US) is pretty well settled. The real questions arise when your management team and customers become involved.
In the US, metadata is a business record that belongs to the company keeping the record. That's the legal definition that kept companies from having to notify customers when metadata was requested by government agencies, and the reason that you don't have to get customers to "opt in" for you to properly route their requests and transactions.
Until recently, most people outside the IT department didn't even know that metadata existed. Now, on the other hand, people are convinced that the routing headers on data packets will allow you to figure out what color underwear they've chosen. On a personal note, if you've actually figured out that last part please, oh please, keep the knowledge to yourself.
Given the new public interest, do you have a well-developed policy about metadata? If you're like many CIOs, your policy is something along the lines of, "We use it to route the data." That's fine, and it's a perfectly sound policy. You really should write it down, share it with the marketing and communications departments, and make sure that there's a statement to that effect on your web page. You can expand on it as everyone sees fit, but your role will be to make sure that the information shared with the public is accurate and represented in common language rather than "data-geek-speak."
Before you do that, though, you should really figure out whether you're getting all the value possible from the metadata that your transactions generate.
There's an extent to which metadata is a gift that keeps on giving. You know that your security and network administrators use metadata to generate information on resource use and possible threats. It might be time, though, to convene an informal "metadata summit" to ask the different application, database, and network groups precisely how they're using the metadata that accompanies the data with which they work -- and begin the process of figuring out whether there's more value to be gleaned from the data envelopes that zip around your IT infrastructure all the time.
I strongly suspect that this is one of the areas where you'll find that engineers from different disciplines, brought together in a metaphorical (if not literal) room, will find that there is information to be had in unexplored metadata. And that may be the best gift of all; taking something required for basic IT functioning and turning it into an added value for the organization.
Doing more with less is the constant mantra of the modern IT department. Metadata mining could well be your chance to show that your group can conjure data gold from the packing dross of the network. If you can pull it off, you're a hero to the enterprise. And if you explain it properly, you're a hero to your customers, as well. That's a meta-win for any CIO.
What do you think? Is there value to be mined from simple metadata? Let me know where you think the value lies -- and whether explaining metadata's use is too complex for any customer to bear.