How Better Folder and File Naming Conventions Can Improve Your Enterprise

George Despres

Vague and non-descriptive folder and file names create information silos among a firm’s employees. It hides the nature of the content within desktops, file shares and document management systems. It prevents smooth knowledge sharing across the enterprise. For IG, it makes lifecycle appraisal of legacy information nearly impossible. The classic saying of “garbage in, garbage out” applies here.

Imagine yourself starting at a new company or in a new department within your company. Your colleague asks you to open the departmental file share or doc management system, and this is what greets you:

Poor Folder naming

Intuitive folder and file naming based on the function of the content doesn’t require additional labor, since we need to name our files and folders anyway. It only requires a little more thought when naming them, and the ROI can be considerable.

When employees exit the organization, they walk out with intrinsic knowledge that leaves remaining and new hires with disconnects. I’ve seen many departments allow their own legacy file shares to become opaque over time due to a lack of folder and file naming conventions. No one wants to go through a mess of old, “black box” file shares, so the records just sit there­ – risks, costs, inefficiency and all. Affordable machine learning (think software plus software training labor costs) may not necessarily overcome this. Imagine the labor ROI when employees can quickly and efficiently navigate and identify the records they need, rather than reinventing the wheel after fruitless searching and browsing.

There is growing consensus among IG professionals that, contrary to earlier RIM ideals, we can’t expect to make diligent records stewards out of employees in our firms. Outside of the most highly regulated, directive-heavy institutional cultures, you aren’t normally going to get staff to declare every record and manually follow retention policy. It’s just not realistic.

However, it isn’t unreasonable to communicate best practices that can make a difference and easily mitigate bad information management in your organization. By showing employees the effects of careless naming practices, you can make a straightforward case for improvement in this area without taking employees on an RIM/IG death march. You can also provide a clear list of functional, recommended folder names to illustrate better practices, for example:

  • Presentations
  • Training Materials
  • Tutorials
  • Templates
  • Forms
  • Trip Reports
  • Conference
    Summaries
  • Budget FY18
  • Toolkit
  • Software Documentation
  • Acronym Keys
  • Benchmarking
  • Requirements
  • Policy
  • Procedures
  • Workshops
  • Memos
  • Bi-weekly Reports
  • Monthly Reports
  • Quarterly reports
  • Annual Reports
  • Service Statistics
  • Meeting Minutes
  • Contracts
  • External Briefings
    & Presentations
  • Internal Briefings and Presentations
  • Manuals
  • Reference Resources (Internal)
  • Reference Resources (External)

Also, divide your approach into two initiatives: going forward practices and legacy cleanup. By implementing good naming practices going forward as a first step, you cease to perpetuate the problem you’ve inherited. As better habits add value to the firm, you can then go back to the legacy content for best-effort disposition.

In an age of many complex IG and enterprise knowledge challenges, proper folder and file naming is a fairly straightforward, realistic and cost-saving solution. Promote it.

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