Can a strong hierarchy combined with a good search experience help employees access hard to find files?


Like typewriters, carbon copies or fax machines, traditional filing cabinets are largely a thing of offices past. Those hulking cold, grey or gunmetal behemoths no longer take up precious real estate in hallways and closets.

Taking their place are modern electronic filing cabinets, shared hard drives and content management systems. While these modern versions are undoubtedly easier to scale or relocate, they retain a key fundamental property of their physical predecessors. Almost always, documents are kept in a hierarchy that has been designed by a human.

In the past, an individual would privately decide on a file plan for the documents kept in his or her personal drawer. At the corporate level, an archiving department would create and maintain a collective, company-wide hierarchy. Often, the archive department staff would act as gatekeepers to this shared information, ensuring documents were viewed only by those with proper clearance.

Such centralized control of hierarchy design is rare today. Individuals still file their own documents into their own hierarchies on their own laptops while functional or departmental teams create and maintain shared project hierarchies. But gone are the days of the “enterprise hierarchy.”

Or are they?

Enterprise Content Browsing

A new generation of content managers are looking to recreate the “corporate file cabinet,” but in a decentralized and democratic way. They realize that, despite the considerable advantages of enterprise search technologies, browsing seems to be an innate human behavior.

Employees are comfortable and know how to work with hierarchies.

The modern equivalent of the archiving department is using technology to stitch together all of the hierarchies in the enterprise. However, given the number of people and departments involved and the variance of their outlooks on the importance of the documents they are filing, this can lead to inconsistent hierarchies.

Yet, this endeavor can be extremely useful if combined with a good search experience. Consider the following user journey:

  • Deploy a simple search query and get results.
  • Click a search navigator to quickly refine to a specific subject area, department or timeframe.
  • Click on a search result. It looks useful, but the info seems incomplete.
  • Click on a link showing where in the “enterprise hierarchy” that document resides.
  • Explore other files in that folder, or maybe navigate to related folders.
  • Find a related folder that you didn't know existed, but looks promising in terms of content.
  • Move to that folder and deploy a further search limited to that folder and its sub-directories.

Of course, all of this is done while fully respecting your document-level security regime. Users will see a filtered view of the corporate hierarchy, depending on their permissions.

This mixture of search and browse functionality suits most people, most of the time. A project manager can use it to collect weekly field updates. A new employee can get a sense for the corporate document hierarchy. Enterprise Content Browsing also can help an administration colleague who simply needs to find a misfiled document.

The enterprise search users who make a significant difference to your corporate prosperity are smart people. They will look pragmatically at the hierarchies they come across during their information search and browsing activities. They will contextualize, and they will make the most of what exists.

Enterprise Content Browsing gives these workers the greatest opportunity to mine your company’s unstructured big data. As this pile of information expands at up to 80% per year, productivity and company growth depends heavily on making connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information. Enterprise Content Browsing makes that process easier and more efficient by giving workers access to the best of both worlds, search and browse, in one tool.

Image courtesy of fotoedu (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more by Kamran on enterprise search, see his Structuring the Unstructured: Why Big Data is Suddenly Interested in Enterprise Search