But I love my subfolders! Using metadata to drive your document organization (Part 2 of 2)

In the transition from paper to electronic documents, file organization was never properly considered. With paper filing, although error prone and inefficient, at least offered logical and intuitive methodology. Specialized filing cabinets and folders became the standard throughout all industries, so anyone could find what they needed after the briefest of orientations. Digital documents, although far superior in every other way, were never as simple to organize as paper files. In the last article, we looked at how naming conventions helped user see document information in the file. Here, we will look at the nested folder “solution” that has become ingrained in electronic filing, and how FileHold can replace and transform document storage.

The only tool provided to keep documents organized in a desktop was the folder. Related to the directory system of old MS-DOS environments, folders allowed users to bundle similar documents together. Think back to the old floppy disks, and how you might store project documents over a series of disks to show their relationship to each other. As hard disks took over, this habit of grouping related documents with folders on the workstation became ingrained, as did the use of sub-folders. These folder and sub-folder taxonomies created unwieldy labyrinths of structure that were navigable only by the creator: you had to understand how to look for documents, instead of just being able to browse. Imagine a paper filing system with that complexity – you open a cabinet drawer full of folders, and in order to look in a folder, you need open an envelope, in which is another envelope, and so on, until you find the documents at the bottom – and realizing they’re not the ones you wanted, put them all back in their layers of envelopes until you get back to the folder. It cannot be navigated with ease.

Once these structures moved from the desktop to the server, the problem became amplified, as each user’s “system” for sorting documents might clash with others filing “system” there was no way to force users to follow the folder path for the organization without massive cultural friction. This created islands of information, with their own maps and terrain to navigate. In fact, this was non-organization.

What was needed was a fundamentally different way to group documents: metadata. These tags allow users to attach descriptive information about a document for reference, and for grouping. Tagging documents with a project name means you have something to grab onto without needing to segregate the documents into a buried subfolder. This allows you to flatten out the filing structure – why create a labyrinth when you can find what you need from one spot? Metadata connects the islands of information to make documents easy to find. Subfolders isolate, metadata joins.

Better filing with FileHold

This is where FileHold’s powerful search function comes into play. When a document is added to the FileHold Library, the document’s contents and metadata tags are added to the search index. Metadata can be attached to any kind of document, including those without text (photos, videos) so anything can be found with these key word search tags. So now, if you need to find those invoices over the last six months, you can search for the Date of Invoice within the time period, and look at your results. You can then use other metadata fields to refine your search – look for invoices from one vendor, or above $1000, or have been approved by the CFO – or all three fields at once, and find what you need. There’s no call to create a folder for each vendor, you can let search create these filters for you.

However, the old paper system has one major advantage – it can be browsed. It would not really be practical to make a big bucket of documents and expect someone to wade into it and find something efficiently. Filing structure gives instructions to team members as to where they can find documents. FileHold understand this and uses the structural advantage of filing cabinets to create basic order in the Library. However, this structure does not isolate documents like subfolders do – the search function will still locate documents throughout the Library, and the metadata assures the right one will be found.

The other powerful function of Folders in FileHold is permissions. Users are allowed to see documents based on the document type (schema) and the filing location. This also makes sense. If you have an accounting cabinet, do you need to give everyone free access to that Cabinet, or just the Accounting team? Maybe you want everyone to be able to see the HR Policy folder, but only HR gets access to the Employee Information folder. The choice is yours, and FileHold gives you the power to make these decisions easily.

With metadata, information is no longer buried in subfolders, or only searchable by elaborate file naming conventions. Now that so many people are used to tagging their posts on social media, it’s never been easier to bring your team onboard and transform your document storage. To learn more about how we can help your industry with metadata, contact [email protected] and get started today!

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].