Marvellous Metadata

Author: Dan Rossiter, Built Environment Sector Lead, BSI

As the built environment undergoes its digital transformation, there are several concepts which underpin this transformation. Whilst BIM and information management (via the UK BIM Framework) and interoperability (via the GIIG) have been explored in detail, metadata has remained a relatively unexplored topic.

Metadata, put simply, is data about data. When considering metadata, many built environment professionals may think of ISO 19650-1 (Information management using BIM. Concepts and principles) which references metadata as a concept needed to support the use of a common data environment. Seeing the term used here, many may consider metadata to be a specialist subject. However, unbeknownst to most, all built environment professionals create and use metadata daily.

For many, their most recent use of metadata will be when they last sent an email. This is because emails use a header populated with metadata (e.g., sender, receiver, time stamp) to enable their delivery. In addition, all of the technical documents produced to as part of a project or to undergo maintenance work are rife with metadata. Put simply, anything found within a title block or a document’s header or footer has metadata. For example, a drawing (data) will have a title (data about that drawing) and a date of issue (data about that drawing). Thankfully, support is available to those who wish to make the most of their metadata.

For technical document metadata, there is ISO 7200 (Data fields in title blocks and document headers). This standard specifies the mandatory and optional data fields for title blocks and document headers. In doing so it provides consistent name for each field, as well as its recommended character length. In addition the standard provides some example title blocks which conform to the provisions of the standard and work well with ISO 5457 (Sizes and layout of drawing sheets). Example mandatory fields include: Legal Owner; Identification Number; Date of issue; and Title. Example optional fields include: Revision index; Document status; and Language code. As such ISO 7200 provides a useful set of fields for an organization, such as an architectural design practice, to create metadata enriched technical documents. Regardless of an organization’s digital maturity, using consistent metadata on documents will improve their discovery, use, and management.

For more mature organizations, there is EN 82045-2 (Metadata elements and information reference model). Whilst the EN 82045 series focuses on document management more generally, part 2 focuses on metadata in a manner which makes it machine-readable through its application of an EXPRESS-based information reference model. In doing so EN 82045-2 has taken metadata from ISO 7200 (and other standards) and has identified for each metadata element:

  • Identifier;
  • English label (with synonyms);
  • Definition;
  • Predefined values (if any); and
  • Express model.

For example, “Identification Number” from ISO 7200 has the identifier “DocumentID”.

This data about metadata (meta-metadata?) allows different organizations and software to use the same data fields to manage their respective documents. As a result, should two organizations and their enabling software adopt EN 82045-2, documents could be shared without a loss of data; improving the speed, quality and efficiency of information exchange between organizations.

Regardless of how digitally mature an organization is, all of its employees will be using metadata on a daily basis. As such, tangible benefits can be achieved from harnessing the power of this metadata to support document management, as well as more advanced applications such as within BIM and information management, database-centric approaches, as well as within digital twins. Such benefits include making documents and other information containers easier to find, move (within an organization), and exchange (outside an organization), as well as easier to maintain and manage. In doing so, an organization can transform its metadata from malign to marvellous.

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