Cleaning up Shared Drives

As long as I have been in industry (enterprise content management, records management, document management, etc.) I have been asked to help with a ‘shared drive problem’ more times than I can remember.

In 2019, surprisingly, I still received requests for purely physical records management solutions, (Records Management), and requests to assist customers in sorting out their Shared Drives problems, (Document Management). I am sure this will continue through 2020 and beyond.

The tools and procedures to solve the Shared Drives problem have been around for a long time but for whatever reason (I suspect lack of management focus) the problem still persist and could be described as being systemic across most industry segments.

Yes, I know that you can implement an electronic document and records management system (we have one called RecFind 6) and take away the need for Shared Drives and physical records management systems completely but most organizations don’t, and most organizations still struggle with Shared Drives. This post addresses the reality.

To my mind, the most important ingredient in any solution is ‘ownership’ and that is as hard to find as it ever was. Someone with authority, or someone who is prepared to assume authority, needs to take ownership of the problem in a benevolent dictator way and just steam-roll a solution through the enterprise. It isn’t solvable by committees and it requires a committed, focused and driven person to make it happen.

In a nutshell there are three basic problems apart from ownership of the problem.

  1. How to delete all redundant information;
  2. How to structure the ‘new’ Shared Drives; and
  3. How to make the new system work to most people’s satisfaction.

Deleting redundant Information

In my experience and the experience of my clients, rule number one is don’t ever ask staff to delete the information they regard as redundant; it will never happen. Instead, tell staff that you will delete all documents in your Shared Drives with a created or last updated date greater than a nominated date (say one-year into the past) unless they tell you specifically which ‘older’ documents they need to retain. Please also explain that just saying “all of them” is not an acceptable response. Give staff advance notice of a month and then delete everything that has not been nominated as important enough to retain. Of course, take a backup of everything before you delete, just in case. This is tough love, not stupidity.

Structuring the new Shared Drives

If your records manager insists on using an overly complex, hierarchical corporate classification scheme or taxonomy with multiple levels as the model for the new shared drive structure politely ask them; “Do you want this to work or not?”

Records managers, archivists, librarians and scientists understand, apply and love complex classification systems. However, end users don’t understand them, don’t like them and won’t use them. End users have no wish to become part-time records managers, they have their own work to do thank you.

By all means, make the new structure a subset of the classification system, major headings only and no more than two levels (sub-folders) if possible. If it takes longer than a few seconds to decide where to save something or to find something, then it is too complex. If three people save the same document in three different places, then it is too complex. If a senior manager can’t find something instantly then it is too complex. The staff aren’t to blame, you are. The old rule for a user interface (UI/UX) is that if you have to explain it, you failed.

I have written about this issue previously and you can reference a white paper at this link, “Do you really need a Taxonomy?”

What are the Shred Drives for?

The Shared Drives aren’t where we classify documents, it is where we make it as easy and as fast and as possible to save, retrieve and work on documents; no more, no less. Proper classification (if I can use that term) happens later when you use intelligent software to automatically capture, analyze and store documents in your document management system.

Please note, Shared Drives are not a document management system and a document management system should never just be a copy of your Shared Drives. They have different jobs to do.

Making the new system work

Let’s fall back on one of the oldest acronyms in business, KISS, “Keep It Simple Stupid!” Simple is good and elegant, complex is bad and unfathomable.

Testing is a good example of where the KISS principle must be applied. Asking all staff to participate in the testing process may be diplomatic but it is also suicidal. You need to select your testers. You need to hand-pick a small number of smart people from all levels of your organization. Don’t ask for volunteers, you will get the wrong people applying. Do you want participants who are committed to the system working, or those who are committed to it failing? Do you want this to succeed or not?

If I am pressed for time, I use what I call the straight-line-method. Imagine all staff in a straight line from the most junior to the most senior. Select from both ends, the most junior and the most senior. Chances are that if the system works for this subset that it will also work for all the staff in between. Alternatively, select one person from each major department.

Make it clear to all that the Shared Drives are not your document management system. The Shared Drives are there for ease of access and to work on documents. The document management system has business rules to ensure that you have inviolate copies of important documents plus all relevant contextual information. The document management system is where you apply business rules and workflow. The document management system is all about business process management and compliance. The Shared Drives and the document management system are related and integrated, but they have different jobs to do.

You have Shared Drives so staff don’t work on documents on ‘private’ local C drives, inaccessible and invisible to others. You provide a shared drive resource so staff can collaborate and share information and easily work on documents. You have Shared Drives so that when someone leaves you still have all their documents and work-in-process.

Please do all the complex processes required in your document management system using intelligent software, automate as much as possible. Productivity gains come about when you take work off staff, not when you load them up with more work. Give your staff as much time as possible so they can use their expertise to do the core job they were hired for.

If you don’t force extra work on your staff and if you make it as easy and as fast as possible to use the Shared Drives, then your system will work. Do the opposite and I guarantee it will not work. KISS!

The Shared Drives are a resource for your document management system; they are not the solution. The cleaner and better organized your Shared Drives are, the better your staff will work and the better your document management system will work.

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