Why search-driven information management is worth investing in

Posted by Annabel Snow on 13 May 2015

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IT solutions come in all shapes and sizes but when you mention ‘folderless content management system’ you’re going to send shivers up a few spines. The familiar structure of folder based storage and navigation mimics the trusty paper based storage systems of years gone past. But we can’t ignore the catchcry of ‘I can never find where my colleagues have saved things’, ‘There is so much junk saved in my team’s folders’, ‘I save things locally because the folder structure is out of date’.

For those of us spending our days assisting people in finding and managing information it soon becomes clear that a search-driven approach offers many benefits to information management that traditional information architectures cannot.

Many people will swear black and blue that they must have a structure which they can navigate through, but think nothing of flicking straight to the back section of the newspaper for sports scores or searching for a hotel online. These two approaches rely on the user identifying up front what it is they’re looking for in order to start their search.  Search is all around us and is growing to be the first port of call for information retrieval; and in fact it’s so inherent in everything we do, that many people take this approach more naturally than they realise.

The issue for Information Management (IM) professionals is, whilst we’re happy to spend time at home searching for bargains on Amazon or Trade Me and eager to Google for restaurants or maps, once back at work we suddenly want the training wheels put back on and to be guided through the information gathering process. And fair enough, there is a lot more at stake in a work context than not finding that Jamie Oliver recipe you saw on telly last night.

But why do we need the training wheels put back on? 

If I can find the perfect house by searching online, using multiple queries and filters, then why can’t I take that same approach with me into the office and use it to find the approved version of my contract document?

Supporting IM strategy with responsive enterprise solutions

Let’s be honest here – with an increasing pool of information being made available to us through digital means, and the rate at which it’s created accelerating, finding a reliable way of organising that information can be difficult. It’s no longer practical to always employ static hierarchical structures for people to browse through to find what they are looking for.  

One of our biggest problems has always been attempting to build a structure that meets each individual’s needs, and where the descriptive names are easily interpreted by everyone.  While it’s rarely intuitive enough to need zero training, we have gotten by.  But is getting by good enough? 

We are asking users to think innovatively, but what about us as the information professionals??  Isn’t it time we changed our approach to information management too?  Let’s mature the every day search technologies our users are employing in their personal lives to help them add value in their professional lives.

New digital generation, new IT solutions

There has been a lot of talk recently that while some are happy in the midst of the folder paradigm, new entrants into the workforce - the so called generation of digital natives – do not need or want to work in rigid structures. And of course, we are all now in the age of Google docs and cloud sharing technology – where born digital is simply reality, not a soundbite.

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Why try and force people back into a paradigm that we already know is moderately successful at best? We should be responsive to the variety, velocity and volume of information that we are now creating, collaborating on, and consuming. So where to next?

Search based information architecture

You might be thinking folderless environments sound fine in theory, but how do you make it work?  With the advancements in semantic search and classification we already have handy features and tools that make search easier and that blank search box much less daunting.   

You still have a choice in how your information management environment is structured. You can become fully search based or implement a more flexible and hybrid model. Even if you do create some navigation or browse-type features, these do not have to be rigid like traditional structures but can be constructed post-search according to the search query of the user.

Wondering where to start? In the next blog, I’ll share with you my thoughts on how to make the search driven data environment work and what some of the business benefits can be.

Further Reading

 Knowledge Management = Enterprise Search….or does it? http://www.optimation.co.nz/our-work/blog/information-management-practice-lead/