man riding a bicycle on the beach
PHOTO: Dan Kreibich

For almost 40 years, we’ve gone to Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for vacation. Each morning, I go for a bike ride. And my latest effort to distract myself from the fact that some exercising is going on is to fire up the TED Radio Hour, narrated by NPR’s Guy Raz. Before anyone voices any concerns about distracted high speed competitive bicycle riding: a. there’s no traffic on the park road I ride on, b. it’s audio only and c. I am not very fast.

The most recent episode I listened to was called Simple Solutions, with the premise, “Sometimes, the best solutions to complex problems are simple. But simple doesn't always mean easy.” The contents are drawn from full TED talks, and on this particular day included simplicity hacks from these talks:

All of which got me thinking about complexity in the world of information management. There ARE many situations — particularly among organizations at large scale —that call for complex content solutions and process strategies. But a massive slice of the economy, namely small businesses, could be significantly more productive by rethinking the information equation through the prism of simplicity.

The Tie Between Information Management Effectiveness and Productivity

Before hopping into how small companies can use content management simplicity to their advantage, consider a few data points that illustrate the links between information management effectiveness and productivity. According to McKinsey, productivity improves by 20 to 25% in organizations with connected employees. Consider this data from a recent M-Files survey of 1,500 knowledge workers:

  • 42% percent cite challenges with improper or incorrect labelling of documents.
  • 82% say it’s challenging to name or tag a document to ensure that it can be easily found by colleagues.
  • 93% are unable to find documents because they’re badly named/tagged when filed.
  • 73% say their organization has no clear guidelines on how documents should be labelled.
  • 82% say it would be beneficial if the system they use could automatically name/tag documents for them.

Related Article: Why Expectations of Constant Increases in Productivity Aren't Realistic

Size Matters When it Comes to Productivity

Despite the popular belief that large companies are huge elephants that are unable to dance, a significant body of evidence ties organizational scale to productivity, thus pointing to an unexpectedly high degree of dancing ability among large companies. 

There is a tradeoff for small companies. Yes, they can often adjust more quickly than larger competitors. But their small scale also puts them at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to productivity.

Consider this data from OECD’s Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2017:

Labour productivity by enterprise size, business economy

 

10-19 persons

20-49 persons

50-249 persons

250 persons or more

Belgium

77.42

89.80

107.12

108.89

Germany

50.57

58.28

69.67

85.89

France

61.63

68.71

75.95

85.66

UK

61.22

60.79

80.47

77.50

Netherlands

63.49

74.72

91.18

73.43

Brazil

27.66

30.66

37.31

51.43 

Related Article: How to Escape the Productivity Paradox

8 Content Management Simplicity Hacks for Small Companies

As information complexity grows, small companies have an opportunity to use their small size to their advantage — simply because information management effectiveness at large scale is by definition riskier and more complex, as are the solutions to address it. The simplicity case studies on the TED Radio episode offer lessons we can take and apply to content management at small companies, hacks that can create direct and recognizable benefits to help overcome the productivity disadvantage of small scale.

1. Focus on the 80%. The content landscape is littered with many ocean-boiling casualties, a direct result from the first wave of ECM and BPM, which was driven by large organizations with BIG problems. Big problems, big gains, but also big stakes. As many have written and commented to death (myself included), these monolithic and complex solutions are in the process of being broken up. But this is still a completely different use case from the problem set confronting a small business or non-profit. What are the major problems for small companies? Let’s not make this more complex than it needs to be: documents, images, email, running a website, and open APIs to connect with process solutions you have. That’s the 80% to get right.

2. Think of simplicity as a synonym for appropriate rather than second-rate. As a result of the SharePoint revolution and the sync and share revolution, there is incredible price/performance capability out there in basic content management platforms. Don’t over-buy.

3. Get the basics in place. Most modern basic content platforms can handle retention management, file naming conventions, version controls and metadata assignment. But not every platform can do this without requiring all sorts of unrealistic commitments from knowledge workers. Knowledge workers just won’t do it, no matter how many times you ask. It has to be automatic and invisible, or the metadata fields will wind up empty, much like this:

content basics

4. Leverage what you have at hand. You likely have multiple basic content management tools already in place that could handle 80% of your information management needs. Organizations with large scale and large geographic reach wind up with multiple core content repositories and file shares for a reason. But given the capabilities of many of the basic content management platforms available, there is no logical reason for a company with less than 100 employees to have multiple content repositories. Pick one to focus on moving forward. Any one. But pick only one.

5. Talk to actual users. As you rationalize and standardize your content platform, talk to users. And more importantly, listen to them. They will tell you more about how and where to standardize than you could ever learn by looking at product spec sheets.

6. Don’t be afraid to reset your assumptions. As you settle on a content management platform for your work looking forward, do it right this time. Just because a product is easy to use and deploy doesn’t mean you should just turn users loose and hope for the best. We’ve all been there, done that and the result is a content silo nightmare. Time spent on the front end will pay 5 times over in dividends downstream and help you avoid repeating our mistakes of the past.

7. Look forward. You won’t ever bail out the boat if the water is coming in faster than you’re emptying the buckets. Get your arms around incoming and newly created information. And do it now.

8. Adopt the right metrics. Understand how much information is under control, how much is still unmanaged and understand that is not necessarily the same as having everything in a central records center. Make something that measures “under control” a core performance metric.

Use Size to Your Advantage

Everyone has their pet content management tool. But allowing everyone to use their favorite content management tool really is a case where 1 + 1 + 1 = about 1.5. Educating 100 people instead of tens of thousands about why settling on a single core content platform can create strategic advantage is a surmountable task, and one a small company can accomplish much more expeditiously than a massive one.