Defining Metadata

The First Step Toward Consistent Content Management

November 15, 2001

Consistent content management can both reduce costs improve both the quality of your customer experience. Start by identifying the kinds of metadata that matters most to your different groups of customers and to the people who serve those customers.

How would you like to reduce costs AND improve the quality of your customer experience? Take a look at all the redundant content management processes you have in your organization. I'm sure that you have different people, processes, and workflows involved in creating and maintaining all the different kinds of information that impacts customers directly or indirectly. The chances are pretty good that there's a number of different departments or groups (internal or external), each preparing and maintaining the content that is used to design, market, promote, advertise, sell, and support your products and services. I would also bet that all of your different product-line groups probably use different content systems and processes. And, no doubt you have different specialists responsible for preparing and maintaining accurate content for your Web sites, your printed catalogs, your customers' e-procurement systems, and your customer-facing contact centers. I'm sure you've thought about trying to corral these disparate, redundant processes into a single, elegant, and simple enterprise-wide content management system. Just think of all the time and money you'd save! Think of the beauty of having a single content database!

Dream on! Customers we've talked to who have had such ambitious plans--to revamp and to streamline all their disparate content management processes and organizations-have shelved those schemes. Although it's great in theory, in practice, it's often too expensive for today's budget-starved times and too difficult organizationally to carry out such a "big bang" project. Yet, you know that there are big savings to be had by streamlining your organization's redundant content management processes, and you also know that these fractured content management processes lead to inconsistent and confusing information that adversely impacts your customers. What to do?

We recommend that you begin with the most critical part of all content management processes, defining the metadata. What types of attributes or tags need to be included in each piece of information to make that information easy to find and to act on? You can start the process of streamlining your redundant and expensive content management processes by identifying the kinds of metadata that matters most to your different groups of customers and to the people who serve those customers. We recommend that you do this by mapping out the key customer scenarios in which your customers find themselves and use that technique to identify the types of metadata that you will need to support each step in each scenario. Then you can set up metadata tagging standards in XML that each of your disparate content-creation and maintenance groups can adopt. There are several reasons why this approach will work organizationally and save you money.

  1. It's not expensive to identify the metadata elements you need-you can do this on paper; it doesn't require a new software investment and roll-out!
  2. By involving all of the disparate content management groups in the process of discovering and identifying metadata, you can begin to build the consensus you'll need to migrate everyone towards a more consistent and less redundant set of content management processes and systems.
  3. By taking the "what matters most to our customers" approach, you'll reduce organizational resistance and the "not invented here" syndrome.
  4. And, by beginning at the beginning--by identifying the customer-critical metadata and beginning to tag it--you can easily decide which content to tackle first. Hint: it's the information that adversely impacts customers the most!

If you do take this approach to corralling your redundant and expensive content creation and management processes, you'll probably decide as a group to start tagging new content that is in the process of being created and not to take on the monumental and expensive task of converting all of your existing content. That way, over time, every element of content you create and maintain will include the metadata that makes it easy for customers, and for those supporting customers, to find the information they need in a particular context and to act on that information to make important decisions (like whether or not to buy your products!).

For more information on how to start thinking about your metadata, start by reading Geoffrey Bock's article: Why Metadata Matters .

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