It’s amazing to see the major changes in the look and feel of the typical office over the course of the last 50 years. If you have seen TV shows like Mad Men with their 1960’s workplace décor and then compare this to the open space and cubicle jungle concepts of the modern office, you notice a radical change in the physical working environment. The only constant is change, right?
Your office could be old school or new school but one thing remains the same: When it comes to managing documents your people are either Filers or Pilers. Both lay claim to high levels of efficiency and have an unwavering belief that their way is the best way when it comes to managing their documents.
Over the past few decades a lot has changed when it comes to the storage and retrieval of documentation. There used to be stacks of paper and rows of filing cabinets containing paper trails for every form of business operation. Fast forward to today and the stacks and files are no longer always in hard copy, tree consuming output from typewriters, copy machines and hand-written notes. Many, if not most, documents are accessed and stored virtually and storage is measured in kilobytes, megabytes, and terabytes. How we communicate and share has changed forever.
Let’s step back and get some perspective. There’s no escaping physics and as Einstein proved: time is relative. Einstein also said: “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” So my having been in the workforce for “a while”, that is more than four decades, the 1970’s aren’t so far back except for a massive pile of events that have occurred in some sequence in between and seemingly accelerating every year. Being as old as I am and being that everything feels like it happened yesterday you could say I’m a time traveler through the world of documents. Many of you reading this could say the same about yourself!
Of course you might be a Millennial and have no idea (yet) about the relative nature of time and change. If you’ve never used a typewriter or even a word processor then the significance of the evolution the modern office has experienced may be abstract and somewhat more difficult to visualize. Now, ‘back in the day’ the big vision for the future of the office was that we’d be “paperless.” It hasn’t really come to fruition has it? Oh, sure, we are definitely becoming the “less-paper” office. Moderate declines in office paper reproduction are happening but its abolition is nowhere in sight.
Even though paper use in the office is slowing down, the number of documents we create and access is actually on the rise. In the Information Age, we are accessing more and more of our content electronically. With so many documents living in electronic storage, finding them when we need them can be problematic. Often the mindset is “if I need it again I will find it again.” The reality is often much more difficult than that. Far too often we print a document, again and again, producing a ton of waste. We’ve gotten terrible at filing, the information keeps piling, and the finding part is harder than ever.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Thanks to the advent of DMS (Document Management Systems), ECM (Enterprise Content Management), and a myriad of other TLA’s (three letter acronyms), options are available to help make document storage and access much more efficient and easier to do. The problem is that most people aren’t using these systems correctly. Data from IDC shows that “the knowledge worker spends about 2.5 hours per day, or roughly 30% of the workday, searching for information.” Clearly we still have some work to do to make this statistic a thing of the past.
Back to filing and piling: Which is better? With technology available for identifying documents through user entered Metadata or OCR based input, the dichotomy between filing and piling can for the first time in history be rendered irrelevant. Every document coming into the organization can easily be indexed and assigned to authorized groups or individuals. Retrieval time is minimized dramatically. Solutions providing collaboration and version control eliminate redundancy and obsolescence as well as providing archival history. In effect, that age old great division between Filers and Pilers is quickly on its way to the recycling bin.
One parting thought from Albert Einstein: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
Now it’s your turn! What has your organization done to to make electronic and physical document storage and access more efficient? If you are using a DMS today, what are some best practices you can share to make it easier for others just getting started? We look forward to hearing your thoughts!