SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part IV

Records Management

You understand the importance of Enterprise Content Management (ECM), the data continuum, cloud-based imaging technologies for back filed documents and the importance of proper workflow. These are the large-scale, macro concepts and system implementations of ECM. Records Management is the next area of ECM we will focus on. Records Management is the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, no-frills, in the trenches work of ECM.

“Let’s get down to the neety greety.”
-Ignacio, Nacho Libre

We’ve covered digitizing physical documents and discussed the push toward paperless environments and workflow protocols, so let’s focus on electronic documents. Most organizations are sitting on a mountain of data, and, unless there is a solid Records Management system in place, it will be a jumbled mess. Standardized file naming conventions are the best and most immediate way to manage your organization’s records, but just because you have a naming convention in place does not guarantee information won’t be lost, work won’t be duplicated, and time won’t be wasted. It has to be the right naming convention.

What’s the right standard naming convention?

Naming conventions vary across industries and from one organization to the next, but the first step is to implement something that makes sense. Just because you put a system in place, doesn’t mean you’ve improved efficiency. The point is to make sure that the records are easy to navigate and immediately recognizable. This video from the University of British Columbia’s Records Management Office does a great job of clearly explaining how you should go about it:

The tutorial gives a breakdown of how file naming conventions should be set up. It points out the need to have simple naming that separates drafts from final documents. File names should be broken down into unique elements, separated by underscores, so a user can know what the document is about at first glance. If it’s a working document, it will likely go through drafts that need to be revised. You should mark each revised document’s drafting status by assigning it a revision letter, i.e. “revA,” “revB,” etc. and NEVER mark a document as “final.” If you want to mark it as completed, name it “rev0” so last minute changes can still be made to it and it can be given a status of “rev1,” “rev2,” etc. instead of something like, “final final.” We’ve mentioned in previous posts that all information has a life cycle. By marking a document as “final”, you are essentially killing that document and the information it contains. If you mark it “final final,” you’re hiding the body.

As stated above, there is no standard file naming convention that crosses industries. Your files can be named in any way that fits your organization’s needs, but name should answer three questions for the user:

1. What is this document about?
2. What is its drafting status?
3. Is it in use?

You must be sure that whatever method you choose is adopted by everyone. Consistency is crucial.

“All things must pass
All things must pass away”
-George Harrison, All Things Must Pass

Once you set up your naming convention, you have to properly organize your folders. If you can’t find the folder that contains your properly named file, it doesn’t matter what it’s called because it is lost. Folders become confusing when they contain sub-folders, which contain sub-folders, which contain sub-folders… etc. When organizing folders, you cannot be afraid to change their set-up. Often the previous setup was completely logical and made sense at that stage of institutional development, but all institutions are constantly evolving and pivoting (at least they should be), and, now more than ever you must be able to adapt. In the future you’ll have to adjust your organizational models even more frequently than you do now.

Okay, how should Folders be set up?

Whether you’re proficient with the command line, or you’re comfortable using the file finder window on your computer’s operating system, you want to eliminate waste and improve efficiency when dealing with your content, which is a key theme of ECM. The best way to do that is to make your folder structure as simple as possible while still being effective. So, just as with file naming, there is no standard, one-size-fits-all, cross-industry folder structure implementation that exists. It must be tailored to fit your organization’s functions, and it is subject to change over time.

One way to organize folders is with the ABC Method. This organizes folders alphabetically so, for example, the “accounts payable” and “accounts receivable” folders may be subfolders to an accounts folder, which is a subfolder of the root folder titled “A.” Folder A might also contain a folder titled “access codes”. Basically, in the ABC Method, unrelated folders are grouped alphabetically. This may be a great method for smaller institutions to organize their folders, but you have to know what you’re looking for, so it may not be as effective for larger groups.

The ABC Method may be the best way for you to organize your files or it may not be. There are countless ways for you to set up your folders; the challenge is finding the best way. The point of highlighting the ABC Method above is to illustrate that the methodology changes. What makes perfect sense to you might not make any sense to someone else, and what made sense in the past may not make sense now, and what is in place now almost certainly won’t make sense in the future. Finding the best system doesn’t mean finding a perfect system. The best way to decide how to set up folders is to try to imagine that you know nothing about the intricacies of your operations and then follow the most logical file path as if you were starting from zero.

Here’s a helpful article (Zen and the Art of File and Folder Organization) to reference when managing your folders. Tip #27, “Try to Minimize the Number of Folders that Contain Both Files and Sub-folders” is a good rule of thumb for avoiding confusion. Another rule to remember is that all your data has a lifecycle. Since this is the case, so should your Records Management systems; be willing to change outdated and inefficient models. Change is inevitable, so try to embrace it. In the next installment of our Enterprise Content Management Series, we’ll be discussing Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM).