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Give me a crash course in knowledge management
October 6, 2011 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I get to do a huge reorganization of my department's computer file system. Problem 1: I know almost nothing about knowledge management. Problem 2: I've only been with the department for five months. Do you have good resources for helping me get up to speed with knowledge management/information science best practices? Please share your experiences doing this kind of project. Reading previous AskMe's it looks like I might need sources about information science?

Our data spans four shared drives, has files going back to the late 90s and hundreds of folders. It's a huge (poorly organized) archive, with recent data mixed into the old stuff. We have projects that are cyclical, and we often reference the previous year's data. However, sometimes we do need to know what we did even further back than that. The problem that we keep bumping up against is that there are multiple possible locations to look for a piece of data, and we often spend time clicking through layers and layers of folders only to find out that we were in the wrong spot to begin with. In short, it's a huge time suck. We need a better organizational method than putting stuff in where it seems to "fit."

Obviously, knowledge management is a HUGE subject and a field all its own. We're not going to hire an outside consultant to come in and do this job. What blogs, books, websites or other can I read to gain a working knowledge of how to get started on this? Have you done this sort of project? What went well or didn't go well for you?

The hope behind this project is that we'll have a more sane organization method that won't require an enormous clean up in the future like we're facing now. A good solid foundation with obvious and clear paths to where information should be stored and retrieved from. I have plenty of time to dedicate to getting this right, and I plan on being well read and prepared before diving in.
posted by stoneweaver to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have time to write out a full answer, but any good book on records management will help. Check out HTTP://www.arma.org to get started.

There are also previous Ask Me's about this subject.
posted by Calzephyr at 9:26 AM on October 6, 2011


Sorry if this is a bit low-level for you, but my organisation did this a while ago, and had to do a massive re-do on a lot of it because the people who were going to use the system found it impossible with the new filing.

Moral of story: consult the people who are going to be using your system before you begin planning changes, note their feedback on the system, add a small pinch of salt to compensate for any grumblers, and then proceed :)
posted by greenish at 9:29 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everything greenish said is good advice, but i'd like to add this.

The fundamental underlying principle of file server organization is that you should be able to find what you're looking for just by knowing what it is. If I ask you for slides from the June 2009 committee meetings, that should be enough information to traverse the folder structure.
posted by Oktober at 9:33 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Calzephyr - I tried searching for previous questions, but didn't really come up with anything. Can you point me to them?

greenish - Low-level is a good part of what I need! There are only seven of us in the department, and there will be plenty of meetings about it before the actual reorganization starts happening.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:33 AM on October 6, 2011


How much data are we talking about? If it would all fit on a big external drive (I see 4TB drives at Office Max) and index it with Google Desktop and see if that is enough organization for you. At least as an interim measure.
posted by LarryC at 10:02 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


LarryC -

That's actually not a bad idea. An external drive is very unlikely to get OKed by out IT/IS department (we have a lot of sensitive information they wouldn't want outside our very secure server room), but I might look into Google Desktop. Even if we can't get all the data onto one drive, we could at least have a better view of the silos. Are there any other products like Google Desktop that are specifically enterprise geared?
posted by stoneweaver at 10:28 AM on October 6, 2011


This is getting back to records management basics, but does your company/organization have a records retention schedule? That's where this should start. You need to start with clear policies and procedures and that will make it slightly easier. There needs to be some policy in place regarding what gets saved and for how long and what needs to be destroyed. Policies regarding paper records and files can be adapted for use with electronic records. Google "records retention schedules" and you can see some examples.

As for how to organize; I've only done the most rudimentary records management but some suggestions include using the company/institution's organizational chart and the functions that those offices supports to develop a file structure.

I know that you don't have any control over this, but each department should not be doing their own thing willy nilly. This should be coordinated company-wide effort.
posted by kaybdc at 12:18 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


You should also consider a metadata-retention policy -- basically, a way to lock in dates, authorship and anything else that might conceivably be used in a search query so that it persists when files are accessed and/or copied.
posted by holgate at 1:03 PM on October 6, 2011


Total kludge here, but if you are currently searching by file name, there is a blazingly fast utility for Windows called "Search Everything". [If you need to find a file based on the contents of the file, this won't help you and you'll need to resort to a Google Desktop type solution.]

I only use it for my 500Gb laptop drive, so I don't know about deploying it in a business domain. But I have the drive split into a C: and D: drive, and once Everything has indexed the drives, you just type parts of the title into the GUI and it shows you everything that matches, almost in real time. You can type multiple words in and it'll just show you files that match all of them. This would really help you with your problem of
we keep bumping up against is that there are multiple possible locations to look for a piece of data, and we often spend time clicking through layers and layers of folders only to find out that we were in the wrong spot to begin with.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:37 PM on October 6, 2011


Wait why isnt your IT dept doing this?
posted by majortom1981 at 3:13 PM on October 6, 2011


Hi again!

Here are some previous Ask Me's:

http://ask.metafilter.com/192778/CMS-and-Project-Management-System-for-Financial-Services-Company

http://ask.metafilter.com/181295/Documents-then-profit
posted by Calzephyr at 4:39 PM on October 6, 2011


The hope behind this project is that we'll have a more sane organization method that won't require an enormous clean up in the future like we're facing now.

I really, truly, honestly wish I could be beside you to help you through this process. For starters, it's not going to be easy. It can take up to 2 years to work out the business rules, records storage rules and policies and technical infrastructure. I know that sounds scary, but if things are done as best as possible beforehand, you won't have a future where five years down the road you're trying to do this again. If you have a local ARMA chapter, they might be able to find you someone who can mentor you through the process.

The last sort of similar project I worked on involved merging two controlled vocabularies for two different companies in the same industry. They had different software, we had different software, they had different words, we had different words...and yes it took over two years.

At the outset, you want to analzye the data you have presently, and then try to guestimate your data needs in the future. This is tricky because there is always the possibility of data needs changing, a vendor going out of business or the structure of the organization changes.

One of the best things to do at the beginning is to interview all the stakeholders, from the people producing the records to the people who will be using the records. Find out what their storage pain points are. Users are not going to use a system they don't like.

The problem that we keep bumping up against is that there are multiple possible locations to look for a piece of data, and we often spend time clicking through layers and layers of folders only to find out that we were in the wrong spot to begin with. In short, it's a huge time suck. We need a better organizational method than putting stuff in where it seems to "fit."

This problem can be helped through a controlled vocabulary, metadata or keywording. For example, a controlled vocabulary that has multiple non-preferred terms mapped to preferred terms can make it easier for users to find something. Jane might not be sure if the document was called "Happy Fun Time" or "Cheerful Time Fun Time" but if "happy" and "cheerful" are mapped together, she'll be able to find them all the same. A system that focuses on quality search results would be good. People have their own intrinsic need for order and ordering system, and this is why things are in the wrong spot. You could take the high level approach of focusing on being able to find things through search instead of folder trees. You could even take advantage of the inherent metadata that documents carry, such as in Office files.

kaydbc is right on by the way. Users often squirrel away documents they don't need. 80% of what we store we never look at again. It's true! If there is a regulatory or legal aspect to your industry, you might be able to leverage that in building better records storage policy.

HTH! I wish it was possible to answer everything in one Ask Me, but you'll find it's a bumpy road. There is a lot of records management stuff that works great in theory, but not so well in practice mainly because of the human factor :-) You will also need to plan for people's reactions to change. Feel free to message me anytime!
posted by Calzephyr at 7:28 PM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure this is a particularly useful answer in terms of the actual nitty gritty of your task but I have been in a similar situation to yourself here.

Not long after joining a team of 10 in a local council office who monitored grant payments, I got to rearrange their whole electronic filing system.

In this instance I have to say that finding a rational system was not the complicated part as the total number of files was relatively small. The hardest part was getting everyone to 'buy in' to the changes - especially a couple of particularly curmudgeonly individuals.

I started by arranging a one on one session with each person in the team so I could get their input on which files they used the most or needed quickest access to and also if there were any areas of the drive which they no longer used and they felt could be archived or deleted safely now. Part of my intention with this was to help everyone feel like they had a bit of ownership of the process as well and it wasn't just some guy coming in and doing stuff to their files. Its hard for me to say if this really did make any difference to the stick-in-the-muds but they did get on board with the process in the end so I think it all helped.

Another thing I found helpful and pretty necessary was monitoring use of the finished new system. For a while new files and folders would appear in the same haphazard way as they had been kept previously. To begin with I would talk to people if I was moving a file or folder which they had created into the place where it should rationally have been, just in case they came back and they couldn't find it. After a while this was no longer necessary and I would simply move anything I found out of place. A few months down the line and people had pretty much taken on the new system and were looking after it themselves for the most part.
posted by Captain Najork at 11:01 PM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


These answers are amazing! Thank you everyone for your input, I'm sure I'll be back for more as this process moves along.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:11 AM on October 7, 2011


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