Beware of the information zombies

By Alex Dean

We all know them. We’re all scared of them. Information zombies. Time-munching, brain cell-crunching clutter of undead information. Information that simply won’t stay dead but comes back to haunt us on a daily basis.

So how do we fight those information zombies? To figure that out we need to take a closer look at what caused them to die and come back from the dead in the first place.

What is information?

Like many living and breathing things on this world information has its own lifecycle:

  1. birth – simple data coupled with insight and context transforms into information
  2. youth – information grows and morphs while many different parties get together to help advance the information
  3. adulthood – the now mature information assists us in making better and faster decisions
  4. death – normally when the information has become irrelevant to our decision making process; either because it simply grew too old or it was overtaken by a newer snazzier model.

Now all it needs to do is disappear after its death. But it doesn’t. With companies implementing petabytes of storage, Office 365 giving users 25GB mailboxes coupled with unlimited archive storage and user’s drives getting bigger and faster all the time, people have forgotten how to archive(or bury) information. Information burial is an important aspect of information management and is too often overlooked when building enterprise content management solutions. And what happens when a dead thing doesn’t get buried properly? It comes back to haunt us!

Suddenly we can’t find the critical information we need any more. Email searches take forever, finding the latest document in the DMS becomes a nightmare and we end up trawling through leagues of information zombies, getting frustrated at wasting precious time not finding what we so urgently need.

So what’s the answer? How do we better manage information burial when we’re so busy creating it?

How about we have a closer look at our job roles and redefine them.

We can’t deny it; we live in the information age. If you’re reading this blog, chances are most of your friends are not plumbers or mechanics or factory workers. No, they are probably information workers. And how many of us actually have as part of their job description an activity relating to maintaining and managing information? How many of us have a clearly defined role that includes the task of maintaining the information systems we all work with? Sure, some will say entering timesheets belongs to information maintenance. But I don’t see that as information. That’s just plain data entry.  Nah, that doesn’t count.

So often I hear excuses such as “I’m too busy to deal with cleaning my inbox”, “why bother we’ve got heaps of space anyway”, one of my favourites: “I’ve got more important things to do than structure my H drive”, and of course my all-time favourite: “Isn’t that why we implemented SharePoint in the first place, so it can take care of it for us?”

At about that stage I truly have to refrain from turning into a howling, blood thirsty, flesh eating zombie myself.

No. SharePoint won’t deal with it for you. But SharePoint can help you deal with it!

The trick is to plan your information management strategy early on. When thinking about storing documents, also think about classifications. Do different documents require different security classifications? Different retention policies? Design your document types in SharePoint to handle the different scenarios and use the power of information management policies to clean out documents that have reached their use-by date.

Design your cemetery early on through implementing a records centre and records management strategy. And enforce the record keeping policies in your organisation to ensure the dead stay dead.

Think about employing a records manager and/or information architect in your organisation to help you design the solution that is right for your organisation, as each organisation is different and has a slightly different information lifecycle to manage.

Finally, sit down with HR and revisit the job role descriptions on file. These define what people are supposed to be doing in your organisation and astonishingly few actually cover activities surrounding information maintenance and management. Many organisations are hiring information workers without actually adding information management practices to their daily tasks.

If we plan for the full information lifecycle we can ensure that information does not overload us and maybe, just maybe we manage to get abreast of the invasion and siphon off the occasional nugget of knowledge. Now that’s the golden ticket, the holy grail we all are aiming for, which is a topic for another sunny zombie free day.

Alex Dean is a Senior SharePoint Consultant & Project Manager at  solution provider  Professional Advantage. You can read more about Professional Advantage and SharePoint HERE.