I’m revealing my age here (or maybe just my nerdiness), but I remember a 70s movie called “Logan’s Run”. Its main premise was that, at the age of 30, you went to “Sanctuary” where you were supposed to move on to a great next life. Everyone’s happy. Spoiler alert: Logan seeks the truth and finds out “there is no sanctuary.”
I just read a great piece by Joe Shepley of Doculabs that discusses the major miss-hit of document management. It’s titled, “Where Document Management Went Wrong .”
Shepley points out that document management had two effects: 1) they appeared to replace the file clerks who were previously charged with curating an organization’s vital documents and records and 2) everyone ended up poorer for it as a result, in a cacophony of department-level and personal libraries of documents that are nearly impossible to track and manage, let alone protect.
I actually can attest to this both personally and professionally as a vendor of solutions aimed at tackling the issue. I was recently at the ARMA conference in San Diego and representatives from two different manufacturing organizations described the same problem. Essentially they had a great enterprise content management system and several years ago, they started piling all of their documents into them.
Theirs is not a story of just adopting document management and downsizing staff. They were also under the assumption that search was the silver bullet. Put it in the system and let staff use search to find their documents – can’t be easier. Now they face some major challenges in gaining a full understanding of their data repository: what’s there that is inaccessible and what’s missing.
The reality is search, namely unstructured search is nowhere near the silver bullet it was expected to be. These two professionals told stories of how, even though every document was in the system, they were not organized and did not have good metadata to aid users with finding documents. Unstructured search cannot be a replacement for the organization that file clerks can create.
On the other hand, structured search, the type of search that uses taxonomies to govern how metadata is applied to documents is still a good solution. Document management has always supported and proselytized the value of metadata to both organize and enable retrieval of documents. And while establishing taxonomies is difficult enough, charging clerks with the tagging of these documents is no longer practical. With the increasing volumes of documents created and shared, it is unrealistic to expect end users to have the discipline of doing it themselves, which brings us back full circle.
Is it really practical to have file clerks organize all of our information for us? No. But what should we do? While search in all of its various forms is definitely improving, so too are the tools that allow for the efficient evaluation of documents and extraction of key data to describe them; all based upon rules that can be established by file clerks, or records manager, or information governance officers.
We’re currently working on a number of projects that help solve the “document description” problem so that file clerks can more efficiently do what they do best: help the rest of us organize our information. The truth is, there is no sanctuary from the task of organizing our documents, but there are emerging ways to make it more divine.
If this topic interests you, you might also enjoy this video: