During the latest phase of our ongoing internal debate about email and electronic communications in general, it struck me that we fall into two camps when it comes to storing the flood of communications we deal with every day. Some of us attempt to file or actively manage our emails, using folders and applying some structure to them. Other colleagues dispense with that, relying on desktop/email search capabilities to find the emails they need when required. There is a lively ongoing internal debate as to which approach is best; management or retrieval?

I suspect this debate is mirrored across the rest of the world and applies to the rest of content management as well. Should we spend time up front – closely managing documents and records as they march through their content lifecycle towards disposal, or should we allow content to accumulate, saving time and effort on a day to day basis but facing a mountain of work if you need something specific back urgently?

The approach your organisation takes probably reflects a mix of your corporate evolution, the industries you work in and your executive’s attitude to risk and I suspect there is no one right answer, as all three factors change over time. But what if there was a third way of looking at content, separate from the usual spectrum of file or retrieve, which offered a new way of looking at content? What if we used our analytics capabilities to review our pools of content and extract the specific information we need?

Building a better clerk

Contents analytics isn’t exactly a new concept, it’s what clerks and knowledge workers have been doing for centuries. The manual model, as expressed by that semi permanent fixture of unstructured data, the file, is a stable and effective approach – if expensive and intensive. The current iteration of the model utilises a mixture of search, reporting and business rules to extract meaning from large pools of content. That’s still rather a reactive approach, a better filing clerk or librarian, as it were, acting after the event, rather than real analytics.

To get the most out of our content – to extract the valuable bits from the flood of low value or irrelevant content – we need to understand what is important. Important to the user, that is, what they’re interested in but also important to the corporation. In short what do we want to keep and what should we be keeping. In both cases we need to analyse the users and their usage of our content and not just the content itself. The current approaches to business content analytics tend merely to look at content and the results are a little disappointing so far, particularly in terms of RoI. However, there are new approaches based on the user-centric view which look promising. Reaching out from the knowledge management space, rather than purely from the perspective of compliance and/or IT practices, combines the ‘better filing clerk’ of content analytics with an understanding of what is important right now to users and to the corporate entity.

What’s important and what’s important right now

This provides us with the structure and content of the file as well as the immediacy of the search and the revelatory aspects of the alert. It also provides us with the management and “filing” capabilities we need to comply with our best practices and legislative demands for the content we generate. All delivered automatically. All reacting to changes; in the corporate environment, in the focus of the team and in the needs of the user. The tools to do this may already exist within structured data analysis platforms, perhaps it’s time to apply them to our unstructured data sets so that we can move on to a new topic for internal debate!