Get Your Data in Order

In today’s business world, information is your most precious commodity.  Data you keep on your computers can make or break your company.  That is why it is so critical to safeguard the data you store on your network.

There are many solutions these days for you to consider such as remote and local backup systems, ghosting, cloud storage.  Before you can consider any of these options, you really need to take a moment and consider the most critical non-technical decision you will need to make:

How is my data organized?

Organizing your data on your computer is about having a system and sticking to it.  It is the filing system of today and should be taken with as much integrity and seriousness as maintaining critical business records in any other form.

When we talk about data organization on the computer, obviously we’re talking about files.  All too often, I find people putting files everywhere, mixing types and using names that aren’t Windows friendly.  These all lead to complications down the line, difficulty in backing up and recovery, and increased storage costs.

The best organized data has the following characteristics:

  • Information is easy to identify and locate
  • Files are all consolidated into one main area/folder
  • Different types of files are separated where appropriate
  • Files names do not exceed 256 characters (this includes the folder tree and filename itself)

Information is easy to identify and locate

The best test for a good system is when you’re out of the office and you need to send someone instructions on how to find the files to a particular project.  If you can direct someone to locate the necessary file within a sentence or two, your structure is probably good.  If you have to hunt and peck, trying to pick different folders across the network, then you may want to consider spending some time in harmonizing your file structure.

Consolidate files into one folder

Often, people are in a rush and decide to put something up on their desktop so they can access it quickly.  This is fine for the one-off solution but if it’s a file that you need to retain, you should have a designated location for this file.  Having everything in one folder, such as “My Documents”, makes it easier to locate and easier to establish a backup procedure.

Separate file types

In some businesses, projects are run with a large number of different types of files, such as music, video, and images.  These types of files tend to be very large and can be costly in terms of storage and backup.  But if you can isolate them to specific folders, it becomes easier to identify these files and isolate them for different, less expensive forms of backup.

The other key is to separate personal files from business files.  Many people maintain personal data, such as iPod music, downloaded pictures, and personal documents.  While these may be important to the individual, they have no place on your business’ network.  If they are mixed in with business data, you’ll be wasting backup space to these “other” types of information.

Smart file names

When Microsoft allowed the use of long file names they created an annoying “Catch 22”. This was a great boost for many companies who wanted a more descriptive file name.  Unfortunately, one item that many businesses are not aware of is that most backup applications (and other operational programs) don’t like these logical file names.  They end up truncating the filesnames and folder paths making it a challenge to restore.  Best case, they cause you to have to restart the application. In the worst case scenario, they can corrupt your information, making it unreadable and unrecoverable by any program.

Rather than trying to fit everything in the file name, use detailed file structures.  If you’re working in Microsoft Office, you can also use file attributes such as title or subject instead to extend the information you have on the document.

Choosing a good file structure before you move on to implementing a backup solution will save your company a great deal of time and money.

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