As someone who manages a business, team, or just yourself, you will know that ensuring that your filing system is easy to navigate, well-planned, and well-organised is vital. Achieving this requires thought, but it shouldn’t be an everyday task.

A line I heard the other day from the founder of Dropbox, Drew Houston, really stuck in my head:

“…email and files are way better than what came before them, but if that’s the end of the line, then we’re really going to limit our potential.”

This soundbite really chimed with me and brought to mind a bug bear of mine in data systems: why are our storage systems so rigid, when the technology is so flexible?

The answer is because people still see computer documents as akin to their paper predecessors. That is, they can only physically be in one place at a time. It’s quite clear that the digital world isn’t putting these physical world constraints on us, and it is the system architect’s job to put in place tools so the user’s world becomes ordered and adaptable.

Unfortunately, most of the time storage systems are largely left down to chance, and no real design is put into the process. As the documents and data pile in, folder structures become unwieldy and cumbersome, and the potential for the system to realise the phenomenal value for your business is lost. Furthermore, if your filing system is preventing you from fully understanding your data, you will be less able to take advantage of new tools and insights

As we move forward, planning for future tech developments doesn’t have to involve predicting the future, just allowing space for your system to grow well. If it’s constrained or badly planned, much like a garden, it will grow, but not how you want it to.

Good design will give you a system that you fully understand today and allows you to respond to technical developments that will give you better insight tomorrow.

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