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Document Sprawl

What is Content Sprawl and How to Tackle it?

Content/document sprawl is the dispersed storage of large amounts of content that is produced by organizations on a daily basis. The content can be in the form of documents, forms, images, videos, etc., and includes archives and analytics, and a lot of it is unstructured, old and unused.

Some amount of content sprawl is unavoidable and often accidental, and usually starts with the end user. Think about this scenario – a user receives an important document in his email. He uploads it to his cloud storage of preference (or a repository his organization requires employees to use) and may also save a local copy on his desktop/laptop for quick reference. He also forwards the email to a few of his colleagues he thinks will benefit from the read. Now multiply this with 5-10 documents a day for 500 employees and BOOM! You have the beginnings of a content sprawl.

Content sprawl also occurs naturally in an organized way. For example, the IT department may select different solutions for different business processes and so content is distributed in them. Additionally, the business may be using legacy technologies for some of their processes, which they are not willing to upgrade or transition from. And to add to the mix, some departments may have started using unauthorized applications as a workaround to IT backlogs. This creates fragmented data which becomes difficult for IT to locate and keep secure.

Factors contributing to the mass content sprawl are:

  • Using multiple point products – when employees use various unapproved apps and collaboration solutions; or use personal devices to store documents or emails, content gets fragmented in silos.
  • Lack of integration – if your company uses various systems for work, like CRM, ERP, SAP, then pieces of content will be stored separately in each. Your company could also store some data on an on-premises network and some on the cloud. Now, if all these systems are not integrated, moving documents from one system to the other may become necessary (so users have access to them) and creates duplicates.
  • If users in your organization are on different operating systems like, Mac, Windows, Linux, they may have developed preferences for certain solutions that are most intuitive with their system and be unwilling to compromise.

As mentioned previously, content sprawl is often a natural occurrence and takes place without us even realizing it. It most commonly happens when there is no plan to organize content, attend to obsolete content, or to make sure that content is saved in the appropriate location following a naming convention and with the correct tags and keywords.

What are some signs of content sprawl?

Organizations can’t avoid content sprawl completely, and usually it is not a big threat unless it gets totally out of hand. Usually, companies will deploy a document management system or an intranet to keep document sprawl under check.

These systems provide a central repository where all content can live and go through its life cycle until it is either discarded or archived. When newly implemented, users are mindful of how they store their documents and careful to follow guidelines set for this purpose. The systems work flawlessly and impress users with organized content and quick, relevant search results.

But content managers need to keep an eye out for the signs of content sprawl so that they can remedy it before it gets out of control. These signs include:

  • Users complain that they can’t find what they are looking for
  • Search results don’t work as well – the document you were looking for doesn’t show up right on top (like it used to) and you have to dig for it
  • Employees don’t frequent the systems you have put in place and instead look for information elsewhere and bother other users for documents they can’t find
  • Employees find outdated or incorrect information including wrong versions of documents and duplicate forms and pages

Why fix document sprawl?

It Improves Data Security

When your systems stop performing adequately and slow down, employees switch to unauthorized, external systems (because there are so many free or inexpensive storage solutions available on the cloud). When data is spread out into unsecured, non-commissioned applications, it is impossible for IT to keep it secure. Putting systems and policies in place that restrict or keep document sprawl in check helps IT make sure that all data is security and there are no threats to it.

It Increases Operational Efficiency

When content is spread throughout an organization and is fragmented, it is obvious that users will spend more time looking for what they need. According to a McKinsey report, “employees spend 1.8 hours every day—9.3 hours per week, on average—searching and gathering information. Put another way, businesses hire 5 employees but only 4 show up to work; the fifth is off searching for answers, but not contributing any value”.

These are alarming numbers! Users today have more of a struggle with search because now they have to look in various systems and platforms for the documents they need and could be spending more time than was reported by McKinsey & Company. So, consolidating the systems and having one source of truth makes content retrieval stress free and quick.

It Helps Observe Compliance

Information is an asset and organizations are recognizing the importance of keeping it safe, and at the same time available. It is becoming increasingly important to monitor the activity of and actions taken on a piece of content – keeping track of who created it, who searched for it, who modified it, who approved the changes, etc. Not only individual organizations but also federal and state regulatory compliances for certain industries require maintaining information about security, sharing and retention.

Implementing controls across multiple disconnected systems is complex and time consuming and so, placing more controls on documents makes it easier to limit the sprawl.

It Reduces Annual IT Costs

When an organization has multiple content stores, maintaining it becomes expensive. These costs include:

  • Annual maintenance costs for each system. With legacy systems these costs are higher because specialized skills needed to maintain these systems are difficult to find.
  • Hiring skilled employees or training current users with specialized knowledge to maintain the various systems. Often an administrator familiar with one platform may not be familiar with another.
  • Conducting ongoing user training for the different platforms

Consolidating all content onto one platform helps IT spend less time and efforts on maintaining it.

Solutions to Control Document Sprawl

So, you hopefully appreciate the importance of containing content/document sprawl and we have a few suggestions on how you can achieve that.

Consolidation/Migration of Repositories

In the early 2000s, when businesses became aware of the difficulty of managing data which were on separate legacy systems, consolidation seemed to be the best solution. It involved migrating data from various repositories and bringing them to one place – in other words, consolidating all sources of information into one – so it could be better managed.

Data consolidation techniques reduce inefficiencies, like data duplication, costs related to reliance on multiple databases and multiple data management points. But consolidation is costly and time consuming and requires the help of skilled data scientists, and even after putting in the efforts, most companies continue storing content in other repositories and systems, completely defeating the purpose of consolidation.

Federated Content Management

Although federated management offers a solution to some of the problems encountered with consolidation, it can’t enforce regulation to the extent that the latter can.

Federated content management provides you the ability to manage content wherever it resides, without requiring consolidation or migration, and this is a huge plus. And since it is independent of repository architecture, it requires only one file plan and retention policy to govern all the content – in all their separate locations. This definitely reduces work for the IT department.

Users can access documents from one application instead of logging into several, which provides easy access to documents that are lost in legacy systems or in file systems.

BizPortals 365 – An Intranet on Office 365 (now renamed Microsoft 365)

BizPortals 365 is a business centric intranet which gives organizations a consolidated workspace to store and share documents, maintain calendars and tasks, get news, start conversations, manage and track projects, collaborate and connect with team members and colleagues. An intranet is the easiest way to break down silos and centralize all business operations and information.

With BizPortals 365 in place, you can do away with your legacy systems and point solutions and operate fully within the intranet. It offers pre-built, automated forms for all approval-based tasks and an employee center where HR can store all employee-related policy and procedure documents, holiday calendar, time-off and reimbursement forms, tax related information, onboarding checklist and training materials, etc.

Project managers can create projects within their departments and manage their portfolio with access to dashboard style views for quick status updates and to run reports. They can also track progress on team and individual tasks, assign and re-assign tasks and manage project timelines. They can initiate team conversations or have one-on-one discussions within the intranet eliminating the need for going back and forth with emails.

Employees have access to news and announcements, people directory, documents, forms, tasks, and all the tools they need to work effectively – no matter whether they are on-site, remote or travelling. This helps save time and energy which employees can use for more meaningful, productive work.

Since BizPortals 365 is on the cloud, all the locations of your organization can access all its functionality which help to keep content and information centralized and manage as well as control SharePoint sprawl. This helps IT with managing and securing the content less time consuming and easy.

BizPortals 365 integrates with Microsoft Office 365 apps and other external business systems so all information is available from one unified location and is searchable from within the intranet. Users don’t have to look for content/documents in the various tools – OneDrive, Teams, Outlook, CRM, ERP etc. – a single search will return results that match the criteria in all applications at once.

You can see how an intranet on Office365 can combat content sprawl and enhance company productivity. If you are looking for a solution that helps centralize, consolidate and streamline your business activities, contact us or schedule a demo today.

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