I'm a Manager new to an organization where we are losing an employee who has been with the group for nearly 15 years. They have been tight with their Word/Excel/Power Point files, labeling in a haphazard way, and saving everything...multiple iterations of drafts, working documents, etc.  Finding past documents is a bear. It's like an electronic version of the TV show  'Hoarders.'  What recommendation or best practices do you have for overhauling the 15 years worth of files, harvesting the truly valid items, and establishing a protocol or naming/filing convention to enable team members to easily find the right files in a timely manner.  Thank you for any recommendations...or maybe a Podcast topic. 

jocadl's picture

Keeping everything is actually a pretty smart and current practice. Storage is cheap.

Combined with the indexing and searching technology available today that covers enterprise content down to the laptops and their file systems, like Google Desktop Search, structure doesn't really matter. So that's how I'd go; Keep Everything, build an Index of Contents, and then Search on Demand.

Hope this helps. Best,


markbyantaylor's picture

There are a number of software systems now that will provide you with a means of keeping you documents tidy.

They will will allow you to:

  • Keep versions/ revisions of the same document
  • Provide a search mechanism
  • Allow you to specificy "rules" that people have to follow (such as having sign off's - good for proposals)
  • Different levels of authority (you may want one person to have readonly access, another to have full edit, another to have none at all)

I seem to remember that Microsoft Sharepoint can be used for this (although I've not used it so couldn't comment).  I also thinks a fair number of the open source WIKI systems allow you to use Document Management.

I'd certainly advise putting some structure round the documents.  The realy problem you will have is determining if they have any value at all.  Most doucment (word, excel, powerpoint, etc) have a very short life - I guess that 90% have no real value a year after thier creation.

If they are linked to a contract or a project that is longer running then I would certainly store these seperate AND spend the time identifying the "correct" version (not always the current if a contract).

The other thing to watch for is if any of the document are needed for legal reasons.  For example,in the UK we can be audited for Tax upto 6 years back - thus keeping relevant backup is exceptionally useful.

If you feel that there will be minimal value in those then follow Jochens advice - store it somewhere (duplicate DVD?) and use searching software.


Solitaire's picture

A tip that I learned about 15 years ago now has helped me to find Excel files more easily. I always implement this with my teams for shared storage files ....

Save files with the date first in the format of yyyy-mm-dd then a brief description of the file. Also you can save these files into date marked folders in the same way if needed.

Doing this lists the files in date order, making them easier to find. Oldest at the top of the list and newest at the end of the list.

Good luck with the clear up!



zackmiller's picture

 Handling huge amount of data is not an issue these days. There are many Software rather than Microsoft excel that provide you easiest ways to handle the work even double than you require.

falkb's picture

Combining the two previously mentioned approaches, you could work both with a structured store (like SharePoint or some such) and an unstructured store (like a file share plus some indexing system like Google Desktop Search).

Each time you need to work with a file, you search for it in the structured store. If it isn't there yet, you search for it in the unstructured store, clean it up, rename it, tag it, and put it in the structured store. You then remove all versions of it from the unstructured store (maybe putting them in some archive directory). 

After a while, you will be needing the unstructured store less and less. After you haven't had to access it for some months, you can put it away on some archive media.

The advantage of this approach is that you only put effort into cleaning up files that you actually need, and you are not cluttering up your new structured store with files that will never get accessed.

Falk Bruegmann

dejones's picture


I would agree that there are various software programs out there that can help facilitate with issues surround electronic records but caution you against the idea that the software that will solve the problem. In order to have authentic and reliable electronic files that are available on a go-forward basis for your business needs, you really should have a records management assessment. "Cheap" storage should not encourage people to keep everything, because, as was mentioned in a previous response, not everything is worth keeping past it's immediate need. You also don't want to start tossing things without considering longer term business and legal requirements. In addition to determining things like file names and file structures for ease of locating, you should consider spending the time to determine what should be kept (and for how long) and how best to organize and keep the files for their active, semi-active and inactive uses. In the long run, your department/business will run more smoothly if you spend the time figuring this out now. Here are a couple of websites that provide more detailed information on records management and archives:,

Denise Jones


stenya's picture

Your suggestion about the two data stores is very timely, as we have a few resources leaving our project soon, and leaving their vast, uncataloged piles of data behind! And Jane, the date-numbering method has also been useful for me in the past - thanks for the reminder.

marieu's picture

Very simply, you need a document management system.  Worldox is fantastic for the very problem you describe.  I manage a law firm and, unless the requisite time period has passed, there's no such thing as "tossing" documents.  Just when you think you don't need something, someone will certainly want to sue you because you don't have it.  With that said, however, file retention for us is 7 years (actually we're only bound to 5 years depending on the area of law) so if certain documents on your system are 15 years old, those can likely be tossed.   When setting up Worldox, you can select the number of "fields" you want to categorize your files -- much like a card system in a library.  When searching, you can fill in whatever fields you wish on the "card" to narrow the results returned.  Worldox also has an automatic feature of cataloguing every word in every document so that you can do a full text search of every single document on the system.  For our purposes, we have fields that depict our client name, the matter name (i.e., we may have multiple matters for the same client), the "doc type" (i.e., correspondence, pleadings, research, contract, etc.) the author (who created the document) then a description (the actual name of the document) and an "additional info" field that allows you to make specific notes about that file that are displayed in the list when you do a search. (for instance, we may have an agreement that we drafted and sent to opposing counsel for their comments.  When we get that document back, it is saved with a note in additional comments that may read "contains opposing counsel's revisions" or something to that effect.)  There really is too much information regarding Worldox to try to type it all here, but I believe a document management system for your purposes would very easily solve your problem.  As an aside, there is also a program that piggy-backs onto Worldox called Trumpet (I think that's the name... actually I'd have to look...)  This program will scan all .pdf files on your system and OCR them overnight.  That way, if you're scanning documents during the day, you don't have to OCR them on the fly (that takes a lot more time); rather the system will scan each night and automatically OCR the .pdf files overnight rendering them fully text searchable as well.  I hope this helps.