The tie in between the current media focus on the political conventions and several recent projects involving file naming conventions, was too good to pass up. The political conventions are all about delivering a consistent, patterned message. Naming conventions are all about consistent, patterned file names.
Political conventions are noisy and full of bluster, but focused on getting a large group of people to back a single platform. Naming conventions, while preferably not noisy or blustery, must be developed on a platform that will be understood by a large group of people. But as we all know, one solution may not fit everyone’s needs.
In the document management world, file naming conventions are utilized in maybe 33% of the systems we see. In our experience, most of these companies use a folder based document management system or just store files on a network drive in folders. There are good reasons to use a naming convention in these situations. Let me explain.
Having a structured file name is generally intended to make finding documents easier. If you scan a contract and store that PDF on your network drive or store it in a folder in the cloud, you probably name the file with a pattern like this – “CustomerName-Contract-072816.pdf”. When a user sees this file on a drive or in a folder, it is pretty clear what it is.
A user could do a search for the customer name and find the document or possibly search for the date to locate the file. However, if the customer name is spelled wrong, it may be more difficult to locate. And when the actual document name (not file name) gets to be a bit long, like “Assignment and Assumption Agreement”, abbreviations come into play and that can make searching more difficult too.
If you are going to use a naming convention, it should include at least two unique pieces of information that will ensure you can find the document. For instance, in addition to the customer name, include the customer number ie. “88888-CustomerName-Contract-072816.pdf”. We also suggest that the structured approach only be used in scenarios where abbreviations are minimal and universally understood.
Lastly, we suggest that a structured naming convention only be used where the need is basic search and retrieval. If your business regularly needs more advanced search capabilities, such as finding and gathering all invoices for utility vendors between January 1, 2016 and June 30, 2016, you will need a different method – a meta data based system.
If your company needs more advanced search and retrieval methods for users, look for a meta data or database driven document management system. Even in a meta data driven system, you can still employ structured naming via a standard list of document names concatenated with other fields of data you chose. This convention can be the best of both worlds.