A key hurdle facing any successful intranet document management tool is ensuring that the solution is effective and easy to use. When deciding on hierarchy, card sorting, or other means of determining navigation, what quickly becomes apparent is that there is no homogenous ‘user’ whose actions and preferences can be relied upon to evaluate if the proposed implementation will meet these objectives. The success and usability of your intranet will be measured differently by administrators, content publishers, existing employees and new company hires. To meet these different needs, it is useful to consider these key goals.
- Can a user who knows what they are looking for quickly find their intended document
- Can a user who knows the topic they are searching for quickly find relevant documents
- Is the system approachable for a user with no prior experience (i.e. a new hire)
- Is it easy to maintain
To achieve these goals a balance of document storage tools is required. Over reliance on one method of organizing content will quickly lead to an unworkable and unapproachable implementation. A classic and all too familiar example is a documents repository where storage, organization and metadata (keywords) are all delivered though one medium: The Folder. Consider this simplified example. Even with this small example several problems are immediately obvious:
Duplication of effort
Each department has been forced to re-invent the same folder structure already created.
The current organizing structure prevents a user from quickly accessing similar documents. Based on this example, if you are looking for all the corporate manual documents you would need to traverse 11 clicks to do it. This example also assumes that the department administrators have created mirror duplicates of each other’s folder layouts. A more realistic (and problematic) scenario is one where the child folders are completely different between each department.
Consider a user in HR who is publishing a document which is both part of the corporate manual and a requirement for training for new hires. Where does the user publish this document? This is perhaps the most egregious problem of folder-only document structures as it leads to duplicate or cross posted documents.
Tags to the Rescue!
To prevent folder spawn and make intranet documents more approachable we consider adding a new element, tags, to our organization mix. To help explain how tags can resolve many of the issues in our first example, let’s see how we can refine the simple storage structure by missing tags and folders. Then we’ll revisit the three problems discussed above.
We’ve taken the original folder structure, eliminated the three child folders underneath each department and replaced them with 3 application wide tags (orange).
Documents, instead of being published in the appropriate child folders are now published directly to the parent department folder and then tagged with the appropriate entry to denote their content.
This is a hyper-simplified example. In a real company it would be wholly impractical to publish an entire department’s documents in one folder. It would, however, be equally impossible to store all a department’s documents in three levels of folders as our first example demonstrated so the difficulties we discussed earlier with accessibility, duplication and inflexibility would be significantly more pronounced. Now let’s revisit those issues:
Duplication of effort
The addition of tags has drastically reduced the number of redundant folders (that admins were required to create and maintain). Adding a new department now is the creation of one additional folder, not four, as the tags are available application wide. This administrative savings only multiplies with the complexity of any storage structure. Previously created tags are available from an easy input interface when publishing any new document.
Documents across different folders are now much simpler to return. Remember our previous example of an 11 click traverse to collect all corporate manuals. The same task can now be accomplished by one click on the Corporate Manual tag, immediately returning all documents from all folders that contain this tag.
Adding tags has alleviated that perennial user problem of deciding between publishing in several different folders which are all partial matches for the document or worse, publishing different copies or links in every relevant folder. A user can now publish a document with multiple tags providing them the ability to denote that an item is both ‘New Hire Training’ and ‘Corporate Manual’. A document’s relevance and organization is no longer purely determined by the location in which it is physically stored.
Why not just search?
Search functionality is critical to any documents storage structure and we are not suggesting that tagging is a full replacement, but a document management system that relies heavily on search can have its own problems. Provided that you can count on the search algorithm to return the relevant documents, search is limiting in that your users may not be aware of the necessary keywords to use in completing their task. This can be especially daunting for users new to your organization. How can you effectively communicate key search terms to help these employees quickly identify what they require?
Tags can assist in this by providing visual search clues while a user is browsing your documents structure. For a user who encounters a document relevant to their task, tags can provide an immediate one click access to other documents in the same topic. Likewise, while a user is searching, tags can provide important cues for topics that they can filter by.
Tags can also help address the reality that there are situations in which relying on search will not be preferable. In this case it is always helpful to have your storage structure as approachable as possible.
Part of a Successful Solution
Tags are just one component providing new possibilities and flexibility of content organization. With the right tools, you can help eliminate time spent navigating a convoluted document storage system or sifting through irrelevant search results. Tools that build a better intranet, build a better business.
Latest posts by Mike Watt (see all)
- Successful Intranet Deployments Yield Employee Engagement - January 10, 2013
- 2.0 Tagging: Beyond the Folder - January 13, 2010