What is Metadata and Why Should You Care?

In the world of digitalisation, the term “Metadata” is used quite often.

But what is Metadata?

  1. Descriptive strings of data that reference activity or other data
  2. Fields of information allowing accurate filtering of data
  3. Automated data which cannot be manipulated or changed after creation

Why is it of benefit to your organisation?

  1. Allows an insight into your data
  2. Potential to prevent fraudulent activity from within your organisation
  3. Reduce time, and increase ease, of audit

Definition of Metadata

According to Merriam-Webster, Metadata is “data that provides information about other data”.

Metadata can be stored as part of the same file or data set, or in a separate file.

The benefit of internal storage is that the metadata is always available with its associated data and is always updated instantly with the data. One downfall however is that you cannot manage all the systems metadata in one place.

Storing the metadata externally means a whole collection of data can easily be searched and managed, but also means there could be discrepancies between the data and metadata as it won’t be updated instantaneously.

Examples of Metadata

An easily relatable example of metadata would be when taking a photo with a camera (or your smartphone).

When you take a photo, data of the image is stored along with metadata about the image, including what camera was used, when the photo was taken, the exposure, focal length, and even GPS coordinates. (This is how your iPhone can give you a map of your photos!)

Original Use

Metadata dates all the way back to 280BC in the Great Library of Alexandria.

Library staff attached a small dangling tag to the end of each scroll containing information on each work’s author, title, and subject so that materials could easily be returned to the correct area without having to unravel every scroll to do so.

In the world of Accounts Payable Automation

So what metadata would be relevant for AP automation?

For auditory purposes, metadata would include everything from the date the invoice arrived in the business through to when it’s ready to pay in the finance system.

The less metadata the better when it comes to invoices, since more data infers more manual interventions of the invoice.

It would include names of users who have opened or edited invoices, along with the date and time of the activity. This would be particularly useful when trying to discover bottlenecks in your workflow, since metadata can contribute to analytics and would be available to view in an ergonomic chart.

Why should I care about metadata?

Metadata is becoming increasingly necessary for compliance with recent legislation’s because of its automated origin and un-editability by users.

In fact, metadata is bulletproof when it comes to audit trails of invoices.

It could help you collate your data in order to comply with “duty to report” legislation, where businesses of a certain size need to report on how many invoices are paid within certain time periods. You could even use this information and filter the metadata to discover why certain invoices are paid outside of agreed terms.

Metadata is an organiser’s dream and has been around as long as humans have needed to keep things in order. These days, whenever there is a digital action there is usually metadata behind the scenes, tracking who, what, why, how, etc… Not in a malevolent way, but one of intrigue and a thirst for knowledge.

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Post by Rory Coleman-Smith,
Marketing Project Manager

Rory has been working with ITESOFT since early 2017. He has placed himself as a thought leader, educating finance departments on the latest advancements in technology in Financial Process Automation.

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