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Who's Afraid of SharePoint Managed Metadata Service?

Who's Afraid of SharePoint Managed Metadata Service?

What is SharePoint managed metadata service? Why should anyone care about metadata?

Metadata helps you find stuff. It is supposed to reduce the chaos of content.

As a child, it was my job to help my mother find her car keys, which were always, inevitably, lost. As an adult, it's my job to manage a website with thousands of pieces of content. I can identify with the goal of reducing chaos, of placing stuff exactly where it needs to go, every single time.


Metadata Just Sounds Scary

"It allows you to classify with precision," SharePoint expert Chris McNulty recently told me. "We're not looking for instances of words that show up in a document; we're not reliant on individual variants of how someone describes a document—instead we use classification to help someone describe a document."

The managed metadata service application makes it possible to use--what else--managed metadata. The managed metadata service identifies which database to use as your term store. When you create new terms or users add keywords, those are stored in that database.

Who is supposed to care about metadata? "In large organizations, IT isn't playing this role—they have knowledge managers or taxonomists. It's in the midsized organization that you don't have those roles—so either a super power user or an IT pro architect generalist has to play those roles about how you classify that information."

Why should we care about classification of information? "Why use SharePoint in the first place? Many are on the second or third implementation and it's so ingrained, they've forgotten why they moved to SharePoint in the first place. Classification is one of those things they moved to SharePoint for," McNulty said.

Metadata in SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013

 In SharePoint 2010, McNulty added, "You can use metadata to govern information lifecycle management, which is important for mature organizations." In SharePoint 2013, "the role of metadata has been expanded 40 or 50 percent. The key driver is you can navigate through information regardless of where it's put physically. It's called catalog functions in 2013."

"The more SharePoint grows up, the more complex the environments get. Once upon a time, there were database complexities and sites were hierarchies of documents. From '07 to '10, you saw more usage popping up along the margins of document collaboration—some social, more complexity. From '10 to '13, you have a much richer ecosystem—user profiles need to be considered, applications need to be cataloged and moved."

Metadata and Migration

"One thing I've observed with the metadata service is that it's likely that the usage of it may have been loosely governed, at best. The metadata service allows for a formal managed hierarchy as well as loosely defined key words. Some organizations went to town with that and those are fine to move forward," McNulty said. But what about those that didn't?

"One of the prerequisites for doing a good migration in 2013 is to address the use of metadata in the 2010 environment. For some organizations, it might be 'We never made use of this before. Should we start classifying before we bring them over?' Probably not. You'll have an opportunity to apply classification during a migration (using tools) or once it's in the new environment."

It appears it's the organization that has somewhat embraced metadata that will has to be wary of migrating. That organization might have a taxonomy set up, with products, office locations, technologies, plus a folksonomy, keywords, not to mention duplicate terms and typos of terms, McNulty said.  "If things are chaotic at the source, they're going to get unpacked the same way at the target." With all the things you do to get ready for migration, are you assessing your metadata in addition to assessing your content?

Metadata Adoption

What can you do to get started with metadata—or get a fresh start, if you've bollixed it up?

"You need to understand that if there's been chaotic use of metadata, or none, you need to find appreciation for the value it adds," McNulty said. He offered some dos and don'ts of metadata:

  • Do a proof of concept—Show how easy properly tagged content is to find and use.
  • Find the right pool of adopters—They're not necessarily in IT but beyond the technical realm. For example, "Project officers—they get that there's a taxonomy of projects.  They'll understand that because there are implicit taxonomies in their behavior—just based on project stages, and more. They're unlikely to try to run into a million different areas."
  • Start at small to medium—"Don’t start by trying to put every zip code in your taxonomy. No single set of terms should have more than 10 or 12 elements. As long as you've put the right tags on a document, it doesn't matter —information management sometimes is about preventing the search a user has to run."
  • IT has a role, but it's not what you might expect—"IT's role should be they're responsible for the plumbing. They need to make sure metadata service is there, properly backed up, secure, and ready for users. It's tough for IT to be in the content business. That’s why you shift most of that responsibility back to the business."
  • Be careful making assumptions about tags—"Dedicated information scientists will tell you—you have to be careful to not assume a tag is wrong. 'Bob's Krazy project'—delete it? That could be a huge error. That could be how Bob's team selects content so they can search for it."

Learning More About SharePoint and Metadata, Managed or Otherwise

McNulty wrote a book on SharePoint 2010 metadata, SharePoint 2010 Consultant's Handbook: A Practical Field Guide to Managed Metadata Services; his SharePoint 2013 Consultant's Handbook: A Practical Field Guide is coming soon. Look to two organizations for exhaustive coverage about metadata and classification: KMWorld  and  AIIM.       

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