#BetterFiling – Using metadata to drive your document organization (Part 1 of 2)

Perhaps no organization moved more quickly into digital catalogues than libraries. The pre-computer index was the card catalogue. These enormous pieces of furniture housed index cards, with each book’s title, author, and subject typed on it, along with a unique filing number. There were typically three card catalogues, one for each of the major categories: while the Title and Author indexes were simple, the Subject was always trickier, since each book could have dozens of potential subjects. When the digital card catalogue arrived, it revolutionized the way to store and organize these records, and the physical card catalogues disappeared seemingly overnight. Now, entries can be tagged with as many subject headings as can be found to cast as wide a net as possible. Try it for yourself – head over to your local library’s website and look for the subject headings in your favorite book: it is amazing how many entries it will have!

Better filing with FileHold

These subject headings are a perfect model of information tags: expansive, powerful, and actually quite simple to use. Our world is awash with these tags: from Twitter hashtags to descriptive information on products found at online retailers, information tags drive organization on the internet. They show common links between otherwise disparate objects, and help create connections to information. These information tags, or metadata, are at the heart of what drives FileHold and makes it the perfect solution for storing and organizing your documents.

For organizations without the culture of metadata, this could be a rocky transition but it does not need to be. Culture is always the greatest challenge to shift, especially when introducing new software or methodology. Here’s a simple example of how the move the metadata can be not only simple but solves a major filing problem many companies have.

Outside of a DMS, users have very few tools to organize digital documents – they have folders to group documents, and file names to capture details. Within the folder, all the users can see is the file name, date added, date modified, associated application, and file size; and while these are good to know, they provide almost no information about the document itself. We will address the difficulties of folders in the next article, and this time focus on the most primitive way to tag a document: the Filename.

When computer documents first came into common use file names were very limited. Those of a certain age will remember old MS-DOS file names that were limited to 8 characters, letters or numbers only. The options for a naming convention were very constrained: file names became cryptic clues to decipher, sometimes even requiring a separate index document to decode. With the introduction of the File Allocation Table (FAT) with Windows 95, the tyranny of 8 character file names was broken and replaced with more elaborate file names to capture document information.

But with the ability to create longer names, rules and policies were hastily created to mandate how to name documents. For instance, an invoice would be renamed with the vendor, invoice number, and date of receipt baked into the file name to make sure they could remain distinct and findable: eg, “INV 12345 – Acme Corp, Sept 2017” vs “INV 12346 – Acme Corp, Oct 2017”. When displayed in the directory, the user could at least see the difference between documents without needing to open or preview them one-by-one.

These policies can difficult to implement and even tougher to enforce. First, it relies on voluntary compliance – all it takes is one team member to not follow the protocol, and documents can’t be organized or found. Second, in a shared environment, everyone has to agree on the rules and as anyone who’s organized an office pizza party knows, unanimous agreement is a greater challenge the more people are involved. Third, the process is riddled with potential error; all it takes is a missed detail, typed error, or worse, accidental document rename, and the information is either wrong or lost.

In reality, what renaming conventions are is primitive metadata – descriptive information about the document, made readily readable and searchable. FileHold can use metadata to automatically create your file names when the document is added, in line with your proscribed naming conventions. Certain tags can be required so the user needs to enter the value before the document can be saved in the system and these can form the spine of your naming conventions. The user adds their Invoice to FileHold and must define the Vendor, Invoice Number, and Date (and other fields, as needed). FileHold then applies these in a naming convention, including prefixes or suffixes, such as “INV – Vendor_Invoice Number_Date” to all invoices. The naming is standard for all users, and they no longer need to worry about getting the order right or missing a value since FileHold is managing those conventions.

This is designed to help your team embrace metadata. No more worry about getting the name right; no more reprimands because of accidental errors; no more time spent getting the information into the system. Document naming is managed, and you get all the other benefits of metadata, just like the library catalogue – all the ability to connect documents and find what you need. Sure, naming conventions won’t save the world, but it will make your digital system a little friendlier, the office a little more pleasant, and your information easier to access.

Metadata naming conventions is just one of the many features FileHold can offer your organization. Contact us at [email protected] to learn more about how we can help. Next article, we will look at subfolders, and how it can actually hurt your document organization.

Chris Oliver

Chris Oliver brings his twenty years of experience in management in the entertainment industry to FileHold Systems as the Client Training and Retention Advocate. To learn more about how FileHold DMS can work for you, contact him at [email protected].