The Folders Dilemma: Common Problems with Network File Shares and how to overcome them

If you have ever used a computer within the last 25 years, then you’re probably familiar with the way that information and files are stored within folders in a hierarchical system. This system works great for your own personal computer where you may have holiday photos sorted into folders based on location or you may have grouped all your important documents into a single folder. Digital file folders are a remnant of manual filing, not just in the iconic appearance on the desktop, but in the entire logical system of grouped hierarchies of documents.  It’s a logic that is obsolete given today’s computer processing capability, and one that has been proven counter-productive to business. 

In this article, we will be looking at the pitfalls of your traditional folder structure in a business’s network file share system, and then we will show you how a document management system such as M-Files can eliminate these issues and revolutionise the way you work.

Relies on you, rather than the system

Your folder-based storage has always relied on each individual employee’s organisation skills and memory to operate efficiently, but the digital information age has pushed even the most proficient employees to their limits. Besides the need to deal with huge quantities of documents and information, they must now anticipate how each document will be searched for by others in the company. Do I save this based on the project? By the date? Who the supplier is? This leads to frustration, which leads to sloppiness. Suddenly you and your colleagues cannot find what you are looking for. This is where the trouble begins.

Is this the right version?

Imagine this, you need to send a document to a supplier as soon as possible. You navigate to the folder that you think it is in, find the document and open it. This doesn’t look like the latest version. You try again and end up in a different location. You find another copy (looks like someone has copied it and saved it in the wrong location). This one is even older than the first. Luckily for you, you know who worked on it last. You contact them, but they are not available, so you keep looking. 20min later they get back to you and tell you they saved another copy elsewhere and they tell you where to find the latest version, so now you can finally send it off. It only took 30min to find what you were looking for, and you’ve discovered 3 different versions and duplications of the one document. Does this situation sound familiar?

Unfortunately, this is the reality for many employees who are still using a traditional folder structure in their business. This was one employee looking for one document. How many times does that employee encounter this problem in a week? How many employees do you have facing the same problem? It all adds up to large amounts of valuable work time wasted. And we all know time is money.

And that’s not even considering the trouble you may have if that employee were to send the wrong version…

Future proof?

Picture this, you have a major project in progress. All the projects documents are saved into a folder for this project on your company’s file share. Suddenly, the project manager ups and quits. Not only is he leaving you shorthanded, but he is taking all his knowledge of the project’s documentation structure with him. You need to find a very important document relating to this project and now the person who knew where it was is gone. You try using the search function, but you are unsure of the document’s title, so you are getting no results. How much time will you waste drilling down folder after folder looking for one document? What if that file cannot be found at all?

Let us flip the situation and say things are going great and you have added a new staff member. They have no idea how the folder structure is set up and are thrown into the deep end. How much of that employee’s valuable onboarding time will be wasted trying to find information? Or how much of your important time will be lost finding and supplying them with the locations of documents when they can’t find them?

Globally the amount of data and information created worldwide has gone from 2 Zettabytes (A Zettabyte is roughly 1,000,000,000 Terabytes!) in 2010, to 15.5 Zettabytes in 2015 to an estimated 59 Zettabytes by the end of 2020. That’s a lot of big numbers, but what does that mean for your business? It means that the amount of information that your business is generating is growing. Exponentially. All this new information, as well as old, pre-existing data, needs to be stored somewhere where it can be easily found and accessed when required. Suddenly the idea of trying to manually organise and file your information into different folders doesn’t seem too appealing, does it? Relying exclusively on individuals for knowledge of the system structure as it grows exponentionally larger is not a great way to future proof and protect your information.

A single structure, but is it the one you want?

A fundamental disadvantage of collecting documents in folders is forcing you to choose a single organisation scheme at the onset, which may or may not be how you or others want to group the files later.

An analogy of this is, imagine you had a box full of dice and they have all been tipped onto the floor. They are all different in shapes, colours, sizes, sides etc. You are tasked with organising the dice. How will you organise it? This needs to be determined at the start. You can’t start organising by size and then suddenly change to shape halfway through, the entire process would need to be restarted. Now let’s say you have decided on a structure to organise the dice. You have decided to sort them by colour. Great, you’re finally done after a lot of time and effort. Now imagine someone walks in and needs to see them organised by the numbers showing on top. Suddenly you are not organised anymore.

If we replace the dice with documents, it’s the same situation. By Project? By Date? What if someone wants it sorted differently? It is information chaos.

Ok, so what’s the alternative?

So you’re fed up with all the time wasted and other issues of trying to use a folder structure to organise your businesses information? What is the alternative? The alternative is M-Files.

M-Files is a document management system that has been built from the ground up to eliminate all these issues by establishing a 100% metadata driven engine. Never again have to worry about where you have to store a document, as documents are saved in a single location and are identified by what they are rather than where they belong. Descriptive metadata tags are associated with each document (such as date, project, supplier etc) which means that the system will work for you to accurately file your information, and no longer will it be dependent on the users to do so.

M-Files inbuilt search functionality will not only search the name of the document, but will also search the metadata tags and the contents of a document, and then display the results in a list sorted by the most relevant first. This means that if you don’t know the title of a document, but you know other information, you can find it with a quick search.

M-Files come’s with an inbuilt duplication detection feature. This will search the contents of a document to see if a copy of it already exists. It also has a Check-in/Check-out functionality to help maintain version integrity. This ensures that there’s always only one copy of a document available, and it’s always the most up to date version.

Because documents are all tagged and stored in M-Files, your companys information will be future proofed. No matter who comes and goes, your information is still available in a single location and easily located by others.

Remember our dice analogy from earlier? Well with M-Files, you can sort your information the way you want it. Instead of manually sorting each document into a single rigid structure, you, or any other user can approach the box of dice (documents), ask for them to be sorted in a particular way  you want, click a button and it’s done for you. Your work colleague can approach the same box, ask to be sorted in a different way, click a button and have his documents sorted the way he wants without it affecting the way you have organised.

But I like folders

Ok so M-Files sound great but I like using a folder structure, it is what I’m used to. I also don’t think my colleagues will be open to change either. What now?

With M-Files, users can create “Views”. These views are a virtual folder structure in which you can organise the folders the way you want without affecting other users. These folders are dynamic, meaning when a document is created it is added to the folder automatically, and a single file can appear in several different folders at once. Never have to worry about where to save a document ever again.

One document, available the way you want it

Book in a demo to see how M-Files can maximise your businesses productivity and save you time and money.


Looking for more info? Check out the following articles from our archives.
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