October 29, 2018

Bringing order to document chaos

Kris Elliott

It’s no secret that organisations are shifting away from paper-based records and by all accounts the amount of electronic documentation being created and retained is growing.  Where once documents were printed only to be boxed in an archiving carton and shipped off to storage, now you have documents being saved into any spare MB of space a user can find where they can quickly find their document again.  The problem is that as the volume of documents an organisation handles continues to grow, the rules around how those documents get managed have not necessarily evolved with the changing trends, if in fact there were any rules to begin with.  What many organisations are left with is collections of documents, often siloed within various departments or workgroups, that the organisation itself has no over-arching visibility of nor access to.

There is a name for these kinds of files and it is ‘Unstructured Data’.  Unstructured data is essentially any data that sits outside of a governing system or database.  Typically this is file-based information.  It’s the PDF’s sitting on your Desktop.  It’s the collection of photos that got thrown into a sub-directory on the company Shared Drive.  It’s draft documents that got used in the creation of a final report.  It’s the receipts that go with the expense claim.  It’s the delivery docket on the warehouse managers desk, and it’s even the leave application form that you filled out last month.  All these document types often fall through the cracks of a finance system, a customer database, an inventory management system or other ERP.

It’s called ‘unstructured data’, creatively enough, because there is no structure to it.  There is no enforced filing system, no naming conventions, no format requirements, no easy searchability, often no disaster recovery, and certainly no transparency.  People can pretty much call things whatever they like and save them wherever they please.  If you are reading this at work, pause for a moment and open the shared drives/folders on your network.  You know the ones I mean.  It’s the M or S drive, the client folders, and the invoices directory.  It’s the generic ‘Scanned Documents’ folder that everyone uses and that group email inbox the whole team can access.  Now have a look at exactly what’s in there and how its filed.  In many cases it’s going to start nicely.  You’ll have a set of appropriately named folders at the first tier, but as your drill deeper into the filing structure you’ll likely see that whatever structure you thought you saw was illusionary.  Different staff have named things in different ways over the years and there will be documents in places they ought not to be.  There are probably even pockets of documents that you have no idea what they are until you open them.  Imagine trying to find one specific document that someone else saved a year ago.  How easy would that be?  Now imagine every person in your office must do that same task dozens of times each day.

There is no denying that unstructured data is a business risk.  What happens when a customer nearing the end of their agreement challenges the delivery of something in the original proposal, but the Account Manager saved it locally in their My Documents folder and left the company 18 months ago?  What happens when the photos from the last inspection are needed but they are somewhere amongst 10,000 other photos on the server with an unhelpful file name like IMG12345?  What happens when a mobile team member has their laptop stolen and all their files were stored locally on their desktop?  Hopefully you are now starting to appreciate the scale of the problem and have also realised that the longer you leave this problem the more significant it will become.

So the question every business leader must now ask is, “How do I mitigate that risk in my business?”.  The answer is deceptively simple and it is this: YOU don’t.  This is not a problem you should try to solve alone and nor is it one that has a solution you can force on the business.   You need to get your staff on board and make them part of the journey.  They need to be involved so that when change happens, it’s change that’s embraced rather than avoided.  You may see the big picture of why change is needed, but your team knows what frustrates them and where all the ‘surely there is a better way of doing this’ pieces of the puzzle are.

The next step is to engage vendors who are subject matter experts, who can give you the advice you need.  Listen to that advice and then choose a solutions partner who understands and shares your vision.  The vendor you want is not necessarily the one with the cheapest offering, nor is it the one that has the perfect ‘off the shelf’ product for your problem.  The vendor you choose to partner with should be the one that strives not only to understand the ‘What’ of your project, but also the ‘Why’.  They will be the vendor who makes your challenges their challenges and approaches them with equal measures of empathy and expertise.

Document Management doesn’t have to be hard.  We deliver solutions to these types of challenges every day and we are happy to answer your questions and provide you with all the help and advice you need to help you on this journey.  The only foolish question is the one you never ask.

If you have any questions or would like to have a chat about how we can help, please contact us today.

Kris Elliott
Solution Sales Executive

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