Good information management is more than a filing system

How are your information management systems? How much of it s automated, or in a central repository? And how do you handle multiple hands, multiple versions, and information audits?

Chances are, if you are like most businesses, the furthest you’ve gone is a functional filing system.

And if you’re really on the ball, you’ll have a file-​naming protocol, so everything is easy to find — even for new people in your business.

It’s very likely you have never done an information audit, or started thinking outside of the ‘filing box’. When you truly think about it, your directories are just like paper files. And your approach to them is likely the same as your hardcopy files: From access rules to what is stored and how.

Really old law books, by Flickr user umjanedoan, used under a creative commons license.
Don’t let your content age with inefficiency.

The trouble is, when you approach information management from a paper perspective, it becomes inefficient. Worst case, it becomes overwhelming. Then, versions of files are unclear. Recent files might not be the best versions to use. And when staff leave, you have serious problems trying to work out what they had done.

Inefficient information handling is widespread

By way of highlighting how widespread problems can be, I’ll give you a recent example. In a large corporation where Brutal Pixie has been engaged on a digital project, hardcopy documents were being retyped before they could be used.

The reason? Nobody knew where the original document was. Nobody knew where the PDF version of the printed document was. And the only way it could be handled was to be marked up in biro and retyped. And none of the existing staff had the knowledge to pull something new together.

How can you function well in a digital environment if you are retyping material because you don’t know where it is (or who has it)? How can you move your business forwards effectively if your information management is holding you back?

And more to the point, how can you think about strategic content when your basic housekeeping isn’t up to scratch? If you can’t even do this, then thinking in a way that allows you to keep one central component that combines in different ways depending on use context, is impossible.Tweet: If you struggle to maintain and capture information internally, driving #digital (or #content) innovation is going to be even harder.

Mishandling information is expensive!

It is not an idle issue. It costs you staff time (or consultant time). And it costs you an impact on your core business. This is why dealing with it gets ignored. And by ignoring it, you make it worse. If you employ a central point (like Sharepoint for example) then you magnify that problem by giving people even more places to spread it.

Driving any sort of digital innovation in your company, is really hard work when your digital housekeeping is poor. Better is to clean up your information and systems, and to start thinking about components rather than files.

If thinking in this way is a struggle for you, then considering content re-​purposing or re-​use strategies is going to be even harder.Tweet: If thinking about #content chunks is hard for you, thinking about #reuse #strategy is going to be even harder.

Sometimes, the first place we need to think about change is at home. Or, rather, in internal systems that enable us to adapt — rather than in customer-​facing systems that will eventually just roll back to what you do everywhere else.

If you’re interested in reading more about the possibilities of chunks, Karen McGrane’s article ‘WYSIWTF’ at A List Apart is a great place to start.

How can I fix it?

You fix it by starting at the beginning. Small achievements in this process are immensely rewarding — don’t think about the end game. Just consider the first step first.

So, if you are really serious about changing how you work, start with understanding what you have and where. Do a full audit so that you are really clear about the landscape.

Once you’ve got that picture, set aside a day to think about all of the ways your information is used, handled, and kept. Consider the rules you have, and question whether every part of every process is necessary.

By having all the pieces in front of you, and being able to question them, the small steps you need to take will make themselves apparent. And if you want guidance, don’t hesitate to email us or ring us for help.

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