Meta Data Can Harm Your Business – What Wholesale Document Reuse Reveals

When a customer emails you to ask a question, what’s your first instinct? Probably not to pick up the phone, but rather to hit “reply.” Shooting a quick email off with a pricing quote or sending an answer to a question is now the mainstream. Email has evolved into a the standard mass communications tool, a decade ago, just 15% of adults in the US went online, today, 63% of the hidden wiki population logs on to do a myriad of tasks from email to IM’ing, to booking trip reservations (1) Documents aren’t only distributed within an organization, but also shared externally to the press, customers, business partners and prospects from the general public.

As a business entity, you and your employees probably do it every day. You or your department creates proposals and send them out to prospective clients. Ideally, each proposal is custom made for each individual client or prospect.

In the crunch of daily business life, we look for time-saving opportunities. Let’s look at this scenario: To create a proposal for client C on deadline, you may cut corners and rather than making a document from scratch. To get the deliverable out to client C on schedule, you cut and paste from last week’s client B package or edit the header and beginning body of client A’s proposal since clients A and C are in the same industry.

Your firm e-mails the new client package out to the potential client C. Client C accesses the proposal’s metadata and sees that you gave your current client A, a competitor, a much more favorable bid, or sees previously deleted data provided to Client A. The result on this unintended meta data discovery is a loss of revenue from Clients A, B, and C.

The dilemma is that a small/medium business enterprise’s digital assets may reach an audience for whom it was not meant for. Unintentional data sharing incidents unchecked are out of a small or medium business enterprise’s control, meta data isn’t.

The problem of meta data is even more compounded in industries like legal, medical and financial fields where monetary fines are attached for revealing private information. Case litigation costs can soar if certain client – lawyer information becomes public. Patient treatment outcomes could be affected if when medical records fall into non-clinician hands. An investor’s successful portfolio could be revealed when analysis information like Microsoft Excel spreadsheets are accidentally distributed in a brokerage firm to non-pertinent personnel.

Meta data information is data which describes another set of data. It provides information about or documentation of other data managed within an application or environment.(2) Many software programs from Microsoft Office to Adobe CS’s Version Cue and Adobe Bridge captures meta data information to track document use. Meta data describes how and when and by whom a particular set of information was collected, and how the information is formatted.

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