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juli 10, 2013

Working to a new way of structuring files

As a collaboration consultant I am often confronted with employees wanting to do their work in the same manner they alsways did, in a new software environment. Being confronted with a new software environment (ANY new environment, regardless of vendor or type), employees struggle with how to do things the way they do things now - to the way we do things in the new environment. Why do they struggle? Because a new software environment may bring new features and functionality, may have a very different look&feel, or may lack existing functionality. Or it could even be that the whole philosophy behind the software is completely different or opposite, requiring a different look at 'how we do things'.

It often is a daunting, but inspiring task, to aid employees in this journey from the way they work now, to the way they work new. It is my job to get behind ' the way work is done now' to 'why work is done this way now'. It's important because from the why, we can explore new ways to achieve the same result!

This week I consulted with a client using IBM Connections 4 on how to shift the work for a consultation body or representative advisory board from collaborating and communicating through e-mail and shared network drives to a moderated community using tools as statusupdates, a wiki, files, and an activity for organizing meetings for several sub-bodies.

The problem at hand

So what is the difficulty here? The way work is done now is: using a shared network drive with a big folder tree, and using e-mail to communicate and send files in some sort of workflow.

The organization we speak of here wants to move away from shared network drives to a more efficient way of collaboration and communication through IBM Connections. So one of the moderators started a Community to use instead. But a question came up around organizing files so they can be easily added, and found. They wanted to know "How can they structure files in a manner that they are used to, and so that the list doesn't become a chaotic large list". Bascially: how can we add all our files from the shared drive folder hierarchy structure that we have now to the Community in IBM Connections?

Well, before I can answer this question and get into how to do work in a new way, I need to explain something about IBM Connections and it's organizing possibilities. Let me tell you something about folders and tags.

Folders versus tags

In IBM Connections structuring and organizing is done using tags. Tags are keywords, or labels, that describe something (i.e. a file) so that it can easily be found later. Tags are handy as I can add multiple labels, so I can find my file based on a selection of one, ore more tags.

It's not very different from the way we use folders, really. Not when you look at it from the purpose perspective: both folders and tags help to find back your files. They are very different though from a visual perspective, which is deeply rooted into our system of structuring things.
Folder structures are very visible, and represent what we have been doing for thousands of years: put pieces of paper (dccuments, or files) into organized compartments such as vases (scrolls were placed in vases), bookcases, and later on filing cabinets. Visually that is how we picture organizing. Computers elaborated on this concept, even though their search capabilities really didn't require that. Even the icon for the Files tool in IBM Connections is a filing cabinet!

No folder hierarchy in IBM Connections 4

If you are working with files in IBM Connections you are faced with some limitations: folders cannot be created within a Community but only through your own ' My Files'. Fom your My Files you may share the folder with a Community. And there is no real folder structure possible as you can not create sub-folders.

This literally means that the team cannot keep doing work the way they do now. They need to have a way of structuring their files in the IBM Connections Community using a folder hierarchy.

Yes, I know IBM Connections 4.5 provides more folder functionality and structuring through IBM Docs libraries or CCM libraries. But these are not an option for this group right now, and may not be for a while. Therefore I don't believe in telling them 'that will be available in a newer version' as it is not a solution for them at this time. And, truthfully, I am not too happy about more folder hierarchy, as it may cause employees to not ever shift away from old ways of working to more efficient ways of working, which I believe tags are.

The solution to this problem is to move away from the folder principle alltogether and start using tags to organize files, or to work with a mix of folders for the first level, and work with tags also to manage different types of files within those folders. Using tags instead of folders can be setup by recreating the folder names as tags, where each folder and subfolder gets it's own tag. Or re-think the folder structure.

Re-thinking folder structures

Why did we use the folder hierarchy in the first place? When you get down to the reason why a folder structure was created, and start from there when you think of your tagging system, that might work better.

folder hierarchy
Ofcourse it all comes down to findability! Using folders in a structured way is because something in 'subfolder A' of 'folder 1' has a relation. Now, what would happen if we would use these seperate tags 'a' and '1' ? The relation between the two (a and 1) would not be obvious. But what if we would use the combined tag 'a1' instead?

When looking for files in the sub folder A in the old way, you would expand folder 1 and click on sub folder A to see it's content. In the new way you would have to search within the Community for files containing the tags 1 and a (in case you used seperate tags), or a1 (in case you used combined tags). You can do a search within the Community, and then click the Files tab to only show results form files.

The result will be exactly the same! A list will be displayed showing files that are tagged 'a1'!

Search results on a1 tag