The problem with windows explorer

Managing your business with Windows Explorer, 20 common problems

What are the risks to your organization, when managing documents with simple File Managing programs.

File Managers, the "Windows Explorer Approach"

It is important to note that, as a tool, Microsoft Windows Explorer has served a specific purpose well. This article looks at the issues when using windows Explorer (or other file manageres) to manage documents across their entire organization.

1. Complex folder structures, unmanageable

Users have the ability to create folders almost uncontrollably. This is usually different for every user. The mentality "I'll put it in here temporarily and deal with it later" is a dangerous one.

The system cannot force users where and how to structure their work, hence complex and unmanageable folder structures appear within days and weeks.

Some companies organize folders based on projects (top level folders) and subfolders based on stages within the projects. This can be very inflexible when a different view is needed to this structure, furthermore, project manager styles vary, and so does the file management system.

2. Limited ability to search

Windows Explorer used to search through limited information such as filename, modified or created date/user, etc. Since the advent of content indexing, this has moved forward, or has it....

The search results produced now are so overwhelming and sometimes plain wild, that it makes it very difficult to find the documents users need. There are entire blogs and forums dedicated to this.

Even if this new indexed behaviour is "tamed" and organized better in the future, it is still very limited and cannot be compared to dedicated database-based systems.

3. Manual Revision Control

Users have to make a copy (sometimes to a different folder, perhaps a "Work In Progress" folder) before they can work on the document. This relies on user's ability to do this every time, correctly. Even if this could be consistently possible, how do users control or deal with compound documents (these automatically change other documents when changed themselves)?

How could an organization rely on revision control of documents using this approach?

4. Needs very high discipline

This translates into complicated procedures which users have to follow, high IT overheads to constantly manage users and structures.

Companies employ consultants at regular intervals to "re-organise" everything, again and again. Users in the meantime, would need to re-adjust and get used to where everything has gone. In many organizations, employees risk their job if misplacing or not organizing their documents as per (the often complex) company procedures. This is inefficient, wastes time, money and demotivates users!

5. Manual filenaming of documents

No automatic numbering schemes to name files for users. They have to come up with varying individual schemes or, again, follow some "procedure". This impacts document finding in the future as well as broken references between documents if these are changed. Company looks unprofessional if they do not quote reference numbers in their documents, but worst still, cannot have effective revision control of their documentation.

Registers like Excel or desktop databases are then employed to keep track of part numbers and metadata. While this appears to solve the issue, it adds another dimension in the complex manual data management environment that requires multiple islands of automation to be kept manually in sync at all times.

If a business is run on Excel spreadsheets, it is a prime candidate in adopting business management systems. 

6. Duplications

Between 30% and 50% of documents in many organizations are duplicated. This can be by accident or to copy "temporarily" and "deal with it later" strategies, multiple backup folders, etc. Main issue in here (apart from space concerns, see below) - is what is the latest version? Created / modified dates on different time zones are difficult to notice and keep on top of, hence a very high risk area for the organization.

7. Limited Security

Static rights (read, write, no access, etc) are the only options offered to users. There is no ability to change visibility / rights dynamically, when for instance a document is approved. This means more folders ("Approved", "Work In Progress", "Obsolete" and the like) in order to deal with this manually, hence more procedures, more manual work and subsequently more costly mistakes.

Documents can be placed on the wrong folders. This opens or denies access to a whole group of other users. It can be a major and constant headache at best and company threatening closure at worst!

8. Very difficult to assign & manage custom document attributes

Custom properties / attributes / metadata are available only for certain document types. Even for these types it is a difficult manual procedure, frought with mistakes in data entry (limited field validations), no smart interaction between fields (like limits between lists, visibility and security, links & feeds from other databases, conditional highlighting, and much more). 

 The result is - they are rarely used. Furthermore, they are simply embedded in these documents with no easy way to use them as true metrics for searching, reporting or automation with other business processes or systems.

9. Lost documents, 7% on average

On average 7% of documents are lost annually according to research organizations. This is when documents are deleted - by mistake or on purpose, or moved - again, by mistake or on purpose, and can no longer be found. Deleting from various FTP folders, servers, etc, has no "undo" function. Many users do not realise this!

Corrupt or bad data can be stored and backed up continuously until one day the company realises they cannot retrieve the original document content, so have to re-create it.

10. Server space constantly increasing,

Duplication of data, unnecessary and unintelligent backups can increase volumes dramatically. This puts strain on servers, it increases the time needed for antivirus scans, batch automated scheduled jobs take longer, increases size of indexation, processing power, downstream equipment (backup and other network devices), clogs bandwidth if accessed via VPN and many more well documented issues.

There is a direct relationship between efficiency in storing, organizing and accessing data and the efficiency of the entire organization.

11. Deleting, overwriting, moving and re-naming issues, accidentally or maliciously

Users can perform all these functions, accidentally or... maliciously. It is very difficult (if not impossible) to determine who did what and when.

12. No audit trail,

Cannot monitor general changes as above (11) but what is even more difficult is incremental changes within documents themselves. Other issues crop up - who opened that confidential document? Who saved all company documents in a flash disk before they found another job? And many more issues stem from lack of an Audit Trail system.

13. Where is a file used? What is the impact of change?

Complex files are not managed. These compound files and the metadata/information within them relies on other files. Users do not know where a file is used. Even if a register (spreadsheet) is kept for this purpose, the act of documenting the change in this manner is so difficult, costly and prone to human manual errors, that it is impossible and completely unreliable for any business that has the bare minimum of complexity in their products / procedures.

Hence, when users move, edit or delete files, they will undoubtedly break some inter-relationships between documents, registers and systems. Examples of this are; 3D CAD packages (SOLIDWORKS, Inventor, Creo, CATIA, etc), AutoCAD (x-refs) Microsoft Excel files, desktop databases, and many more.

Managing the impact of change and knowing what to update when a component, document, record or procedure has changed is vital to quality control and the success of the organization.

14. No Processes, no notifications.

File managers do not offer an "Approval" or "Change" process for instance (or any other processes). Other third party software would be needed for this, or more extensive folder structures and complex manual procedures. 

Some companies use spreadsheets to document this type of activity as well as uncontrolled emails, attachments, and a plethora of other tools. All need to be kept in sync, manually.

15. No lifecycle management.

As above, cannot track a document from conception through approved, changed, in service and finally obsolete stages. Manual management approach to this particular issue is complex and practically unmanageable, as mentioned above.

16. No batch-printing.

Although can send multiple files in one-go to various devices, this is quite limited, higly manual, laborious and does not deal with many complex document types (internal reports, letters, etc) and batch-printing automations.

17. No Reporting or analyzing.

Cannot report on internal information within documents. There are only some simple statistics provided (such as number of files, folders and dates) which are almost of no use to most organizations.

Even if the metadata is kept in external registers, at best this is unreliable due to manual updating processes throughout while at worst, it is unusable.

18. Concurrent working is difficult

Overwritting each-others work, not being able to change a document over extended periods (e.g. over a few days) as other users may overwrite / delete / move in the meantime. Working on complex documents (see 13) can ruin a lot of other user's work, increase costs and risk to business.

19. Global Collaboration is limited and difficult

This is as above (18) but even more difficult due to multiple sync operations. This is usually set during a neutral time when sites are not working - which cannot always be the case, hence syncs can fail, corrupt files or cause delays, timezone date differences, different working cultures and patterns.

20. Publishing and sharing documents

Difficult to share documents (in a controllable manner) with Clients and Vendor chains from windows explorer. VPN's or other shares can be created, which leads to more manual maintenance, duplication and mistakes. Companies rely on other software (usually emails) to distribute files. 

Sending documents through emails presents security risks (interceptions), failure to deliver, as well as many obsolete / out-of-date files and information floating around. Third party manufacturers and vendors end up producing components based in the wrong revisions - this can be very costly. 

Many organizations simply write this cost off and accept it as part of their everyday business.

In Conclussion

File Managers are designed as simple management tools for documents, without automations, without high security, without flexibility, and a long list of other issues...

File Managers are unsuitable to manage organization-wide documentation, they increase management costs dramatically and risk to the organisation. If you do not already own a Business Management Solution, you are strongly recommended to start looking today.

This is a business necessity and not a "Nice to have" tool.

Want a quote?

A few questions for you:

1) How many users need access?
SolidWorks or other users such as Management, Purchasing or Shop Floor departments who need access.

2) Do you use processes?

Want Approval, Change Notice or other processes with custom workflows to manage your data?

3) Single or multisites?

RevZone can work in a single site or multiple sites across different timezones. It can be setup on-site or hosted by us (or any data centers).

4) Do you use ERP or Financial systems?

For example, SAGE, SAP, Oracle, etc. Do you want integration with RevZone?
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