Finding yourself: The art and science of digital file management

Drew Turney
Technology Journalist

Drew Turney writes about technology, science, film, books, pop culture and the crossroads between any or all of them

Drew Turney
Technology Journalist

Drew Turney writes about technology, science, film, books, pop culture and the crossroads between any or all of them

  • A proper naming convention can make sharing and collaboration easier.
  • The right tools can help you gain insights from your data.
  • Digital file management can help you stay ahead of the curve.

Here’s how to conquer your business data. Really!

Improved storage technology means you can keep almost all the information you generate and receive nowadays. That’s great, but it can also make finding the particular file you need, when you need it, a whole lot harder – especially if you have been a bit haphazard with how you name files and organise folders. Welcome to the new world of data retention and management.

Woman working at desk with computer and files

It’s no big news that storage is cheap and getting cheaper – in 1957, one megabyte cost over $US400m to store. In 2010, it cost less than two cents. Today, it costs less than half a cent.

Back in 2012, research firm IDC and IT solution provider EMC (now DellEMC) said there’d be 40 zettabytes of data in the world by 2020 – that’s 40 billion terabytes (40 trillion gigabytes). This year, software company Veritas estimated that unstructured or ‘dark’ data (information that isn’t laid out in searchable tables like databases) can account for 90 per cent of information stored by an organisation.

Put simply, people don’t know what they have got, or how to retrieve easily. That means finding mission critical data can cost a business time and money.

Improperly labelled or misnamed files make this problem even worse – to say nothing of the problems of version control or even duplicating work that’s already been done.

Learning the file management ‘ropes’ is one way to avoid foundering on this databerg, and it’s not as hard as it may sound.

Have a naming convention

Digital file management is a vital business function, no different from marketing or product development. It doesn’t represent billable time, but a gram of prevention now will save you a tonne of trouble later.

First, design a filename strategy. A naming convention – for example, BusinessOutgoings_Date – will make finding old information easier. Metadata is also useful for finding a file. At its simplest, metadata is a short description of what’s in a file: what the subject is, descriptive keywords, who created it, etc. In Microsoft Office, you can add or edit a title, tag and comments on a file by opening the document, going to the File menu and then the Info option. A field on the right-hand side of the screen lets you add details.

New tools make searching and organising using tags and metadata very easy. The time saved across the whole transaction can translate directly to your business’s bottom line.

Because we live in a connected world, there’s more likelihood suppliers, colleagues and even customers will have the means to manipulate your data from different locations and systems. Clearly naming and managing data makes sharing and collaboration easier.

Tools such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google Docs are great for version control. Changes made by different people are easily traceable, even when several individuals are working on the same document at the same time.

Gain insights from your data

One of the most compelling reasons for a file management strategy is because all that information contains business insights you’re otherwise missing.

Truedash is a tool that lets you apply big data principles to unstructured data – you can import spreadsheets, cloud-based app data and even social media posts into a single platform for a deep overview of business metrics.

In fact, you might be surprised about the extent of information you can keep and action. Sydney-based Resonate Solutions offers a platform that lets you collect and extract meaning from customer feedback from ‘listening channels’ such as SMS, surveys and social media chatter.

Images or video add another level of complexity when searching for the data you want. This is where tags and metadata are extremely useful. Images and videos don’t contain nicely searchable keywords in text within the file itself, so you will need to add them to the file’s metadata field or tag.

Zegami is a platform that is particularly useful for managing image collections. It can display tens of thousands of assets and let you view, group and search through them dynamically. If you’re an architecture firm with a million photos in a folder and want to see only the ones with portico doorways, the platform will quickly collect and zoom in on them thanks to the tags and metadata behind them.

Automate it!

If your workflows are all online, some platforms even connect your various web apps and do file management for you. An example is Zapier, which allows you to choose from thousands of automated tasks (or ‘Zaps’) between a wide array of commonly used apps and services. For example, you can configure a Zap to detect a new email in your Gmail account, move the attachment to a predetermined folder in your Box account and then alert you on Slack that you have a new file.

Of course, in this day and age you can recruit artificial intelligence to manage files, too. Smartvid is a platform for industries such as construction, where site managers and workers take millions of photos to report on projects, all with different naming conventions and stored everywhere from smartphones and tablets to email attachments.

Smartvid automatically applies tags and metadata to content using smart image processing and voice recognition (for video content), dynamically grouping it together.

We’re creating and keeping more content than ever before, and the next big business science of the 21st century will be making all that data searchable. With some robust file management principles behind you, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

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