Why is metadata important?
In traditional folder-based systems, users must define the (location) folder in which a document is stored and then blindly trust that this document will be retrieved.
This is problematic because a folder structure is often ambiguous and has a high degree of confusing subjectivity.
For example, a document fits in multiple folders at the same time, but can only be stored in a single folder.
Even if you agree on a structure of folders in the organisation, history shows that it always results in a chaos of folders because everyone has their own interpretation of it or simply no longer knows in which folder something is or should be.
Metadata is an important answer to the outdated location-based approach. Because metadata offer the possibility to give context to documents on the basis of properties.
In this way it becomes more important what a document is, instead of where you store it.
If the location of a document becomes irrelevant, it is also easier to collaborate between departments within an organisation.
What are metadata?
Metadata is information that says something about a document in the form of a property, person, status and much more. This information tells, for example, which project a document belongs to, who created the document or what the status of the document is. Metadata are properties that add context to a document.
The metadata of a document can be very diverse because they have no limitations. It can be pre-defined metadata, such as which customer a document belongs to. This customer comes from a predefined list.
But a digital timestamp is also metadata, or for example a digital signature.
In practice, it can be a list of values, an open field, multiple selection options, date(s), images, a position in a virtual process and much more.
The possibilities of metadata
When saving a new document in M-Files, users simply describe the document with a few metadata tags and that’s it. M-Files automatically indexes and organizes the document and ensures that it appears in all relevant views and search results, efficiently solving the problem of one unique document existing in multiple locations.
Link a document to multiple objects
Thanks to metadata it is possible to connect the same document to multiple objects at the same time. For example, a document with standard procedures can be linked to all projects at the same time, without having to duplicate this document.
In this way, an invoice can be linked to both a customer and at the same time to the project in question.
360 degree view
Suppose you have a proposal dated 1 June 2021 that relates to customer De Beste BV and the project called Project World Conquest. In a traditional folder structure, you would have to choose whether you want to save the file in the customer’s folder, the project or the proposal. In M-Files you can access the same file through multiple views such as
- Documents belonging to The Best Co.
- Proposals per month
- Proposals in June 2021
- Documents accompanying the dossier Project World Conquest
In this way, organisations create a 360-degree view of their projects, files and customers.
Extensive document filtering possibilities
When documents are provided with context by metadata, extensive filters are possible. This allows employees to search very precisely for information based on its context. For example, the search query below is possible:
- From 2009
- With a value between 2500 and 3000 euro
- Approved by Peter
- Paid by John
You can also retrieve overviews of multiple documents thanks to metadata. For example, you can display all documents waiting for your approval or all documents that have just been approved.
This is possible because the status of a document is also processed as metadata.
Actually, the navigation is best compared to that of a webshop filter. There you also ‘refine’ your search. For example, you are looking for televisions, then only 50 inches large, with 4K resolution and only models from Sony. This is how the search for documents and information based on metadata also works.
Start workflow based on metadata
The metadata of a document can also trigger a workflow. A status, project or object starts a document process such as an approval, enrichment or signing.
Permissions based on metadata
The metadata of a document can also determine the permissions on that document. For example, access can be denied on the basis of the file, location or any metadata imaginable.
Because the status or workflow status of a document is also metadata, this can also change the permissions on a document. Rounding off a document can, for example, ensure that the document can only be viewed and no longer be edited.
The advantages of metadata
Contrary to the division of documents into folders, metadata makes it possible to find documents from multiple angles. For example, the same document can be accessed via the client, the project or another metadata input. This ensures that employees spend almost no more time searching for information. Thanks to metadata, you can create a Google-like way of searching for information and documents in an organisation. And that makes a difference, because according to research, an average knowledge worker spends 1.5 hours searching for information.
Thanks to these multiple perspectives and the linking of multiple objects, a document does not have to be duplicated. This prevents outdated and erroneous information and thus the risk of errors with disastrous consequences.
Metadata can easily be used to create very important overviews, creating a clear insight. Based on metadata, for example, a view can be created with ‘All contracts that expire within 60 days’ or ‘All invoices that must be paid within 30 days’. The possibilities of metadata are endless, just like the advantages it provides in terms of insight.
Let information work for you
Often information and documents are only a tricky phenomenon and organizations are looking for software that has an appropriate structure. Thanks to metadata, this is not necessary and the software adapts to the processes in an organisation and not the other way around. The enormous flexibility offers the space to organize the metadata exactly the way the organization works.
video about managing documents with metadata
See how you store documents and link associated metadata to that document.