Glasses in front of computers, highlight the The Dewey Decimal System and AI.

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Can AI change your business?

I heard a quote one time that “PowerPoint is neither.” I thought it was clever at the moment. I would comment to co-workers in the late ‘90s that, “It’s a Microsoft Navy,” as the Washington environment migrated to desktops, networks, and the Microsoft suite of software. This transformation was nearly 20 years after personal computing came to be, and the “enterprise” was finally coming to grips with the reality of desktop computing.

The Dewey Decimal System, novel in its day, offers a manner of filing, cataloging, and grouping while allowing future additions to a collection. A notable feature of the Dewey Decimal System is its recognition of relative order. The system still makes sense today and is in use in libraries around the world. But does an analog-style system like this make sense for your digital filing needs? You may be using the equivalent of the Dewey Decimal System in your own digital archiving systems.

When was the last time you visited a library? I’ll admit it’s been over ten years since I have looked for a book or any other periodical in a library. It’s terrific that we have libraries, but they are not likely to survive. We live in a digital world. You and I can download anything we need in a matter of minutes.

Taking this into your office, how do you archive your data files? Do you have digital folders on top of folders? Do you have folders with duplicate names or names that vary by only a few letters or numbers? Do you use a more formal file name coding system? Do your file names have unique tags or locating information? 

In short, are you applying analog techniques to the storage of your digital data? Many of us do so.

Are you applying analog techniques to the storage of your digital data? Share on X

My friend and colleague, Sten Vesterli, recently shared how the advances in search functions now outpace the time we think we save by orchestrating fancy digital filing systems. Specifically, a digital search can produce a shortlist of close enough files with a few keywords that our brain can select the correct file when we see it in the list. Sounds obvious.

Try this out:

  1. Go to your largest file repository: Dropbox, email inbox, desktop folder, etc.
  2. Choose any topic you might typically search for and type in one or two keywords associated with the subject.
  3. Examine the resulting list of files.

Do you see something close to what you were looking for, if not the exact thing?

There is more than one way to apply this lesson. How many of us feel stress when the inbox of unopened emails contains more than 10, 1,000, or 10,000 files? As I type this, my inbox has over 13,000 unopened emails. That number remains pretty steady—more on that below.

Data storage was an issue in my corporate role, and management saw to it enterprise-wide by controlling the size of individual inboxes. You may be suffering this same fate. You can set a rule that automatically archives the email that was never interesting enough to open in the first place. That way, if by chance you need to reach back and find it, you know you can search an archive folder in seconds and get to it. If an email sits unopened in my inbox for 30 days, it automatically moves to an archive folder.

I open very few of the hundreds of emails that come my way daily. Most are not relevant, are sent via automated means, and can become a time sump. The computer saves me hours a week of file management time by processing my uninteresting files for me.

My business files tend to have many similar names differentiated primarily by the fiscal year of the activity. Yours likely do as well. Given we’re in tax season today, here’s an example: 2018 Taxes; 2019 Taxes; 2020 Taxes, etc. It turns out they don’t all require perfect hierarchical filing per the methods introduced with the personal computer – IN THE 1970s! Yes, this hierarchical method of filing is decades old. It no longer makes sense. Let the computer do the work. As you would expect, the better the keyword, the better the search results.

Now take a look at your other business processes. Can you identify the date of origin of the methodologies in place that drive those processes?

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