Following a recent training session where I was introducing the audience to the concepts of ECM, I had an interesting conversation regarding the benefits of metadata. The immediate cause of the conversation was the fact that a fellow employee had been associated with a document through metadata but the employee had no involvement with the document. “What good is metadata if it leads to this?” The question is valid and the prospect of being associated with a document you weren’t involved with is troubling but metadata isn’t the culprit here, it’s one of the victims.
The short explanation of the situation is that the actual author of the document in question began with somebody else’s prior work. Despite years of training sessions hailing the benefits of Templates, we still often begin a new document by revising a previous document. Of course we forget that ‘Author’ is one of the few document properties set by Word and it remains unchanged through subsequent iterations. Unless explicitly changed by the next author, the Word document I’m writing this blog entry in will always show me as author.
The discussion over the value of metadata, the practice of using templates vs. reusing old documents and the features and lack thereof within Word, continued for quite some time. I’m not sure who “won” this sometimes argument but I came away from the discussion with two thoughts:
First, in reacting to the comment “reusing an old document to create a new one is easy and efficient”, I am more confident than ever that that easy and efficient are two different goals. The practice is certainly easy – but easy is personal. Efficiency, must be measured as an organizational goal and by that measure, this practice is not efficient. The mere fact that a third party was directed to an uninvolved party while researching an important document is testament to the lack of efficiency here.
Second and more important is the troubling fact that achieving an efficient document workplace is such a difficult task. We are trying to embrace new goals that will benefit others more than ourselves. We are trying to break lifelong (life of the PC) habits with respect to computer usage. We are looking for the benefits of a common approach to the task of creating metadata in a decentralized environment – how easy this would be if a pool of trained document specialists created our documents. Finally, we are using tools that have only recently begun to be outfitted with features to support proper document management.
We’re also new at this task and I’m encouraged by the fact that we are even making the attempt. If you are further along this path, I would gladly welcome your thoughts.