How to Simplify Information Management: Start at the Document Level

We’ve discussed it here before. Practically everything we do in our business and personal lives generates information: website visits, product usage, purchases, email unsubscribes—you get the drift.

Someone, somewhere is processing this information into content, which is then often distributed without rhyme or reason, resulting in a sprawling web of the stuff. This makes the content pretty tough to use, and the overall concept of an effective information management (IM) strategy seem impossible.


It doesn’t have to be the case, however. A recent article by Joe Shepley published on CMS Wire argues that organizations are over-complicating IM, and therefore not getting value out of the IM solutions and strategies they’ve invested in.

How to improve? Shepley advises organizations to embrace his definition of early information management success: improved findability. He believes that the endgame of IM, in all its content-bloated complexity, is to make it easier for users to find the documents they’re looking for.

It’s so simple!

It also rings true, according to a recent Information Management report published by AIIM in which 62% of surveyed members cited too much time spent searching for documents as a direct result of their organization’s poor content management practices.

Being in the business of document productivity, the thought of such wasted time makes us cringe. Here, we’re offering some ideas that should help make your organization’s documents easier to find – and ultimately free up hours of lost productivity for your end users.

Implement and Enforce Naming Conventions

Search and retrieval capabilities are quite advanced these days, which has caused a shift in the way users are retrieving documents. Rather than browse through an elaborate, multi-layered filing system to find a document, many users find it more efficient to conduct a search using key terms that relate to the file in question. This approach is made infinitely quicker if users know what they should be searching for, and that’s where naming conventions come in.

Best practices for establishing naming conventions reiterate that file names should be as information-rich as possible without being tremendously long. Common elements to include are dates, version numbers, and key phrases that describe the contents of the document. Decide on how you want your documents to be organized—putting the date first will keep documents in chronological order, for example.

Encourage Use of Metadata / Document Properties

This is especially helpful if your organization makes use of a content management system, as these tools also provide functionality to search metadata in addition to a given file name. (I just found out that my trusty old Windows laptop returns search results by author name as well!)

Examples of metadata fields include:

  • Document title (different than the file name)
  • Author
  • Subject
  • Keywords
  • Base URL
  • Creator (the application the file was created in)
  • Created date
  • Modified date
  • File size

Each of these additional pieces of information will help surface documents that have been ineffectively named or filed. For example, let’s say a user needs to retrieve a PowerPoint presentation, but the only info she has is that it was created by Joe Smith in April 2015. She can easily use that information to expedite her search.

Do Not Print Documents

We’ll say it ’til we’re blue in the face: printing is one of the most unproductive workplace habits out there. Virtually all documents are created digitally these days, and introducing physical files into the equation does nothing but exacerbate existing information management challenges.

If a paper document is mis-filed, the only option for tracking it down is a manual hunt—and any time spent doing that is time ill-spent.

Stop Sharing Documents Via Email

This habit is truly a tough one to break. Since the emergence of email, we’ve been conditioned to attach documents to our messages for sharing—but in recent years many simpler, more secure, and more efficient methods have become available. Services like Box, Dropbox, and Nitro Cloud enable users to securely share documents with the added benefit of insights like whether the file was actually viewed, who viewed it and when, and whether it was shared with any other parties.

I’m certainly guilty of leaving files shared with me via email sitting in my inbox vs. saving them to a file repository—and I don’t think I’m alone. Working this way creates the question, “Where did I save that?” and requires an extra search (and extra time, too) if you can’t recall whether you left the file in your email or saved it properly.

Interested in more tips and insights about improving the way you work with documents? Check out our ebook, 3 Ways to Improve Document Productivity.