Friday, December 5, 2008

Economic Content Management Part 2 – Eliminating Redundancies

This post is a continuation of the discussion we began before the Thanksgiving holiday where we started to explore simple, cost-saving ECM projects that could be planned for 2009 without a wholesale examination of how documents and files are managed within your organization.

Several customers suggested that implementing enterprise search technology was a good method to improve discovery and content re-use and I agree. However, the right content or metadata needs to be available in order for search requests to be most effective.

The benefits of improved content discovery can quickly add up to measurable cost savings for organizations of all sizes. For larger, distributed enterprises those benefits can often be quite significant. Just consider the following:

  • Employees can spend up to 50% of their time searching for information they need to complete assigned tasks.
  • The amount of unstructured data (documents and files) created and stored by US businesses is growing by over 100% per year.
  • The estimated labor cost to re-create a typical business document is $220.

Obviously, data like this provides a compelling argument for organizations to improve how they manage and store content in order to reduce costs and improve operating efficiencies. In tough economic times like these, improved content management might even mitigate the need for staff reductions.

A simple way to get started doing this is to begin adding extra metadata, or tags to business documents so that they can be more easily discovered and re-used. Coupled with a common content repository this can provide employees with a safe and easy way to access and share documents, helping reduce work duplication and its associated costs.

Instead of a complex document classification project, document tagging is a more free-form exercise that will probably be familiar to anyone who has uploaded photos to web services like Picassa or videos to YouTube. However, I wouldn’t recommend letting the project become a complete free for all. Consider appointing a tagging expert among your staff. Ideally, this should be someone who is already a well-organized administrator who can perform the task consistently.

Work together with your new project administrator to define a meaningful set of tags that will help other employees easily discover documents regardless of how they might normally be named or where they might be stored. Next, your administrator will need to be empowered to apply these new tags to everyone’s documents prior to them being saved. This will require a new business process, but not a very complicated one (hopefully).

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The easiest way to direct documents to your administrator is probably the path that requires the least change for everyone else in the organization. If the team is already experienced with using network drives to store and backup data this can be relatively simple.

First, create a new storage area in your content management system (this will only be a temporary work folder). Then map a drive letter reference to the new folder on each employee’s PC. Even relatively simple content management applications like Microsoft SharePoint and Xythos EDMS support this type of process.

The only change you’ll have to ask employees to make is to save their files to the new network drive letter. Once the files have been tagged by the administrator employees can retrieve them and store them as they normally would, or the administrator can simply return them.

Alternatively, if a network folder hierarchy is already well understood at your organization, the administrator can restore files to their proper locations by themself. This will help reduce data redundancy and file inconsistency. Either way, your organization will have begun to develop a more meaningful content repository that can help reduce work duplication and the costs associated with it.

If you’re interested in demonstrating more immediate value via document tagging, consider asking your administrator to apply the process retroactively to high value documents already stored in your file system prior to announcing the project. That way, employees can quickly begin experiencing the advantages of searching tagged categories for the information they need. This may encourage them to become more active supporters of the project from the very beginning.