In the course of discussions with several potential customers, it becomes clear that what can stand in the way of productivity are the little decisions we make as our business grows and changes. Take, for instance, the question of data architecture and information retrieval.
If I start working on a project, and I'm the only person on the project at that point, I'll store documents I create on my hard drive or maybe on a network drive. Since I'm the only person working with the documents, I set the document standards and the storage requirements.
Eventually, the project grows and several people are working on it. Typically, the team grows a few people at a time. The document format standards may stay exactly the same, but we may agree to create a shared folder on a network drive for data that we deem is critical to the team as a whole. A year or two may pass.
One day we look up and the team is 20 people, and we've worked on a number of projects together. Our technology and infrastructure is just what we've cobbled together over time - Excel spreadsheets, a couple of folders in a network drive and an MS Access database or two. The problem starts when we try to find the information and reuse the information and data from those previous projects. Since we don't have any real organization or method to our data, we can't quickly and easily find the information we need.
At this point you are either thinking: 1) that sounds exactly like my organization or 2) that can't possibly happen. Believe me, it can happen. We work with firms all the time who have these kinds of problems. They don't have a good understanding of their collective, corporate knowledge and experiences, and might just need to Google their entire database(s) to find anything. This is nobody's fault, just the outcome of the way in which the organization grew.
What's needed is some perspective on what data is important, why it's important and what people should know about it. Frankly, I wish there was just one large database sitting somewhere in my office where all the files I create or work with were stored. More to the point, I wish every document that I created had a set of attributes or characteristics that were captured when I stored the document, to make recalling the document easier. This "meta data" needs to be developed and evolved. Why do I need to create a thousand folders on my hard drive or my network drive? Why do I have to keep the taxonomy and structure of the database in my head to recall where my documents are? Even if I do all that work, how do I share the information with others?
Meta data - data about the data - is the key. Of course we don't need a complex meta data model for every project, but as the projects and teams grow, meta data creates corporate, shared knowledge. Rather than have all that knowledge walking around in a few key individual's heads, let's devise a way to get that knowledge in a database that everyone can use.
Now, if I can just find my keys....