What is Metadata Management?

Metadata management is the collection of policies, processes, and software/hardware platforms used to manage and store metadata for your organization’s data assets. The larger and more complex the stockpile of data assets, the more critical proper metadata management is for ensuring that data is usable, secure, and available for individuals and teams both within and outside of your organization.

In this short guide, we’ll discuss what metadata is, why its management is important, and use cases in which it can benefit your business.

What is Metadata?

At the most fundamental level, metadata is any data that provides technical or operational context and information about other data. In fact, the root of the word itself contains the prefix ‘meta-’ meaning ‘referring to itself.’ Therefore, metadata literally means ‘data about data.’ Think of metadata as the label on the outside of a box: Without looking at all the contents of the box (your data), the label (metadata) can quickly give you some important info about what it is, where it came from, and why it’s in that specific box.

One of the most common definitions of metadata refers to it as the ‘who, what, where, why, when, and how’ of your data. For any piece of data your organization uses or manages, metadata answers the following questions:


  • Who created it?
  • Who is in charge of it?
  • Who uses it?
  • Who has access to it?


  • What are the governing rules for this data?
  • What is the security protocol for this data?
  • What is the file naming convention for this data?


  • Where is this data stored?
  • Where did this data originate?
  • Where is this data being used and/or shared?
  • Where are other copies of this data kept?


  • Why is this data important?
  • Why is this data used?
  • Why does our business need to use, share, or store this data?


  • How is this data formatted?
  • In how many locations does this data appear?

As you can see, metadata is far from an afterthought and is, in fact, critical to the safe and effective storage and use of data within your organization.

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Types of Metadata

In general, there are two types of metadata — semantic metadata and active metadata.

Semantic metadata is used to describe the overall meaning of the data. It provides context about the data by explaining its relationship to other data, including category information and other relevant details that help provide context about where your data ‘sits’ relative to other data.

Active metadata, on the other hand, is data that has been combined with tools and activities such as machine learning, human analysis, and integration into your systems. Active metadata dynamically improves your overall data management process — at times, by helping identify metadata that is incorrect, missing, or representative of an outlier.

In this sense, metadata management could be described as the process of turning semantic metadata into active metadata.

Why Does Metadata Management Matter?

Quality metadata is the secret weapon of any company that thrives on the success of its data intelligence and analysis. If data is properly labeled with detailed and clear metadata, it can help streamline any company action that utilizes that data — from communication to initiative planning and key business decision-making.

Companies today generate more data than ever — and that data has never been more important for their bottom lines. Metadata is the bridge that takes data from useless strings of text, spreadsheets, or other content, and to meaningful information with context, value, and quality.

Use Cases

How your organization uses and benefits from metadata management can vary, but the most important use cases, listed below, can serve as a primer on the many ways that proper metadata management can enhance your business.

Sensitive Data Discovery and Classification

When your company deals with massive stockpiles of data at a given time, how do you determine which data sets or data points are sensitive and which are not? Manually managing this process would be unmanageable, and without assigning metadata to your data pools, AI and machine learning algorithms won’t know how to classify it.

Metadata management is essential in sensitive data discovery and classification, helping ensure that sensitive data is identified and properly tagged as such.

Data Access Monitoring

Metadata management helps with data access monitoring, or the process of overseeing who accesses data, when, for what purpose, and what changes they make. Sound familiar? That’s because information about who is accessing data and when is in itself metadata. This process is central to creating accurate data audit reports that can help prove compliance.

Data Analytics

Effective metadata management allows businesses to make their data more usable for advanced data analytics, providing the structure on which to build a catalog of data that can be used throughout the organization. Data analytics cannot be truly effective if data is misinterpreted or improperly understood; metadata management helps avoid these problems by standardizing and making data easily searchable.

Enhanced Data Compliance

Data is one of the most valuable assets in an organization, and its security has never been more important. The increased use of personal and sensitive data, and the risks associated with it, has given rise to a slew of new regulations and policies designed to protect data. Proper metadata management is an important contributor to ensuring compliance. Metadata helps prove compliance relative to data lineage, impact, and security for businesses of all kinds.

Metadata Management Best Practices

The best place to start when it comes to implementing effective metadata management practices is a specific data management plan – one that includes universal cloud data access control.

Immuta is an industry-leading platform for automating data access across cloud data platforms at any scale. That means that no matter how you manage metadata, Immuta will be able to fully integrate into your process to provide access control and other essential data security and privacy tools.

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