The Case of the Missing File

As we use more and more files on a given day, it’s becoming harder and harder to track them. That means a stronger strategy around file management is necessary—both technically and practically.

To start off here, I’d like to describe a situation that is destined to sound familiar to you or someone at your association.

Let’s say that you get an email from someone up in the C-suite asking for a specific piece of information—like the level of growth your organization saw in its social media accounts in the prior year. This is likely something that you have a report detailing somewhere in the morass, but where do you find it? Do you know off the top of your head? And is there any sort of system that will ensure that the report is the latest version and not one of the many drafts that were likely created during the process?

(Related question: If a member wanted to find a specific piece of information from your association’s website, how many clicks would it take for them to get to that information?)

If you don’t feel like you could easily find a specific piece of information in your file system, overflowing Gmail folder, or elsewhere, you have a lot of company. A recent survey from the document management firm M-Files found that 46 percent of respondents said it was either sometimes or almost always challenging to find a piece of information in their file systems—a problem the company said was growing as a result of the fact that organizations are creating lots more data than ever.

(To put a number on it, according to ‌The 2019 Intelligent Information Management Benchmark Report [registration]: “Over the last two years alone 90 percent of all the data in the world was generated.” That’s kind of a lot.)

The addition of all that data creates problems with versioning in particular, as I highlighted above. There’s no guarantee that if you dig into your inbox to find an attachment that you’ll have the latest version of a given file. And this is another problem pinpointed by the report—36 percent of respondents say they run into issues finding the latest version of a file most or all of the time, and another 32 percent run into the situation at least some of the time.

This can create a lot of extra busywork given the importance of the information: 83 percent of respondents to the survey said they had to re-create an existing document just because they couldn’t find the original on their network.

Part of the problem at play is one of too many places to look. Let’s say, for example, that some parts of your organization use Google Docs, others use Microsoft Office 365, and another group just share files over email. This creates a problem of discoverability, which can grow more severe over time. On average, the M-Files report states, organizations use four different repositories to store files, with nearly 70 percent of respondents using email to store and manage their documents.

(And expect this problem to get worse as, inevitably, your CEO wants to find a file using a smartphone rather than having to open up a laptop.)

So what’s the solution here? I’ll tell you what it’s not: Limiting the use of the number of platforms within a given organization.

While it might be natural for an IT staff to want to minimize the level of exposure that documents have or cut back on communication mechanisms that aren’t approved, this fails to capture the fact that numerous platforms get used for a reason.

For example, it makes more sense for an editorial staff to use Google Docs to manage their articles than it might to use something like a networked drive—not because having networked files isn’t a good idea, but because Docs adds abstraction around file management, making it easier to use when deadlines are tight.

If your membership department is working to increase numbers, you might be working with spreadsheets, PowerPoint documents, even data models. Developers have different concerns entirely, as might design staffs and marketing teams.

The idea shouldn’t be to let these silos remain separate, however. Really, the goal should be to use an overarching tool that can handle these files no matter where they started.

“By all accounts, workers are almost unanimous that benefits would be realized if all documents could be searched for in one place, and it makes perfect sense,” the M-Files report states. “With an intelligent information management platform, information could be contextualized and presented in a single interface rather than strewn across the information ecosystem. Documents could then be accessed in the same place, regardless of where they are physically stored.”

But it really goes further than that, though, into the area of encouraging general behaviors. What if, rather than having employees attach large files in their emails, they linked to those files at their dedicated home on a cloud server—whether on a private cloud such as a network drive, or something like Dropbox or Google Drive? And what if there was time taken to properly teach your users how to save files in a way that they can be discovered once again?

It would not be a catchall, of course—infrastructure is at least half the solution here—but it’s a behavior that could be driven into the intended audience.

And it’s a strategy that could ensure that when the boss calls on you for an important file, you might just be scrambling a little less.

(XiXinXing/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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