Making the most of your metadata

Posted on Tuesday, April 17, 2018
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By Alexander Lewis
Security Consultant

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It seems like these days all we seem to talk about is data. How do we obtain it? How do we store it? How do we secure it? Data is the heart of the IT business, and a complex enigma to truly grasp. But with collecting, storage, managing and securing this (particularly in the advent of GDPR), data can be one of the most costly assets a business can hold.

What is Metadata?

The challenges of data become even more complex when we look at metadata. Essentially metadata is the data collected about the devices, tools and applications a business uses to function. Whether derived from CRM, sensors, or another business system, this metadata still requires and demands the same treatment as the original data. Whilst the return on investment when data is collected for a business to operate is obvious, our customers are asking us how they can reduce the cost overhead that metadata can cause.

Do I Really Need it?

So you may be reading this thinking, ‘well if it’s such a costly issue, why not just get rid of it?’ From my role in security, I’ve seen first-hand the importance of metadata in security analytics. This data tells us not just what data has been collected (the original data itself) but how, when, and where that data came to be. From a security perspective, to truly protect the data, we need to understand the context of this data and utilise that intelligence to detect anomalous activities.

How does any of this help?

Once I take off my security hat, this analysis has more applications over and above that of just security. We're seeing a massive move in this realisation in two main fronts:

  • Operationally
    Through the internet of things and business strategy, learning how different tech performs the process of collecting data allows us to optimise efficiency, which in turn reduces costs. There's a wealth of examples of how manufacturing and engineering businesses have leveraged their data to bring cost-saving via operational performance.
  • Strategically
    Where this gets particularly clever is when we look at the business strategy side of these analytics. Businesses are utilising metadata collected by internal systems and tech, to help them measure the success and efficiency of their employees.

Take Softcat as an example. Our IT Asset Management (ITAM) team work with our customers to collect metadata from software, applications and other IT tools to help develop a customer's understanding of their licencing estate, and their cost attributed to it. Not only this but by bringing this data together we can understand the way in which these pieces of software are utilised, allowing businesses to realise where they need to invest in user education, to either increase familiarity with a particular piece of software, or change policy to suit the way in which employees are currently working.

This example is just one possibility that business analytics of metadata opens up. We work with a market-leading portfolio of vendors who can gather, analyse and present this data in a quick-to-react and easy-to-digest way. So regardless of whether the use case is security, operational efficiency, business success or anything else, the question remains the same. It’s no longer ‘what can I do with this metadata’ but…

How can I use this metadata to meet my business goals? 

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