Today, we’re living in a rising ocean of data, said Anjana Susarla, associate professor of accounting and information systems at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business.
“Each of us is leaving a digital trace captured on multiple sources,” she said. “We generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, and that number will increase with the Internet of Things. It’s hard to grasp how big the numbers will be. Gathering data isn’t enough. It has to be organized well to be useful.”
Susarla likens the world of big data to “The Library of Babel,” a short story written in 1941 by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. The piece is about a library whose books contain every possible combination of letters and numbers. However, the order and content of the books are completely meaningless.
“We are living in that world today,” said Susarla. “If you think about all of the connected devices and websites; we’re stuck in an infinite loop of data.”
Smart companies must understand the nuances of digital cataloguing in order to leverage metadata, said Susarla, “and that’s the challenge. You need an infrastructure in place where the data that people are making is stored in a way that makes it valuable.”
Companies that do it well include Netflix, Uber and Amazon, Susarla said. Each is “a data-driven operation based on metadata. These companies are data hungry.” For example, Netflix uses data to decide which of its own projects to fund, and Uber uses data to recommend locations to drivers who want the best fares.
Metadata Reduces Waste
In addition to making data useful, metadata helps reduce storage space, which can cut costs. Unstructured data can include meaningless fields or configurations, requiring maintenance, patching and updates. This can be wasteful if you’re paying for space that you don’t need.
Volume also hinders use. For example, banks collect terabytes of data. Because of the space problem, they're just not able to think about all of the use cases they want to do with it, said Kuchibhotla. Instead, metadata can create snapshots, reducing the terabytes from 110 to five.
“You can enjoy the same functionality and get space pressure relief,” said Kuchibhotla.
Due to data’s growing complexity, metadata organizes it and increases the relevance of datasets to bring more value to companies. Metadata protects the future accessibility of digital information by safeguarding its lineage. And it assists in the number of use cases that can be created.
“We have managed hundreds of databases,” said Kuchibhotla. “We manage metadata of these databases, what they're made of, who created it, what the access is and so on and so forth. It's all about metadata. It’s a key component in every aspect of major applications. If you're good at metadata, you can do wonders.”