How everyone can find what they’re looking for
It’s ironic. We’ve come so far in business technology, with super-fast machines with speedy processors and tons of memory – and AI is integrating into many of our apps. And yet solutions to some of the most everyday tasks, like information retrieval, prove the most elusive. Though mundane, we must address this issue. If searching for files, data, and conversations takes too much time, it can raise stress levels and degrade productivity across an organisation.
The reasons data is hard to find usually stem from past technology choices and include IT sprawl, connectivity difficulties, lack of integration… the list is long. More helpful than searching for the cause of the problem perhaps, is to focus on what you can do to improve going forward. Here are some tips for making sure your users can find the files, folders, applications, and tools they’re looking for, so you can maximize efficiency and productivity across all your teams.
- Ensure you’re fully taking advantage of your current tools
First, check you’re on top of the functionality offered by the tools and services you’re already using. During the pandemic, Microsoft and other vendors released lots of new features for information retrieval, and many products are updated monthly or weekly. Even some high-performing IT teams are not aware of the full extent of what they’re already paying for.
After looking under the hood, you may realize that your current services have built-in functionality to search and locate data that you haven’t been taking advantage of. Once you know what options are available, make sure you know how to use them – and find an engaging way of getting this information out to your users in a regular cadence. Knowing what’s possible makes it more likely your users can find data themselves and won’t have to place a call to the helpdesk or fall behind on critical business deadlines.
- Look for quick wins
Embrace any short projects that make it easier for everyone to find their data. Simply reorganising your data structure based on user needs and deleting old files makes it simpler to navigate to your important information. You could also consider migrating your data into cloud services such as Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, where you can instantly search your archives. Solutions like ‘intranet in a box’ can help provide a roadmap to connect users with their data, too.
And don’t forget processes and training. It doesn’t take long to teach users how to better use tools so they can find what they need – for example, storing files in the cloud and sharing them as links instead of sending them as email attachments.
- Make sure your apps work together
A key blocker to finding information is storing it in different places, using a range of applications. Sometimes going all-in with Microsoft is the right choice. Sometimes it’s not. Case management tools in law, for example, or financial investment tools in private equity, are often designed for a particular aspect of business. And many businesses use third-party sales or CRM software. In these cases, it’s important to make sure all your apps work together. For instance, your CRM app may be able to save documents in your SharePoint document management system. Setting this up in the right way will make finding that information easier later.
Don’t rush or make snap decisions. There needs to be a step back and a programme of thought that asks: ‘Though this technology installation was a good idea at the time, is the inconvenience and amount of time this process is consuming (and its security weakness) now eclipsing its value and usefulness?’ Versions of this conversation may already be going on at all levels in your business. It’s a good time to formalise them.
- Beef up your search and stay secure
If you decide to maintain a range of different tools, set up an integrated search that can mine info from different repositories, both from Microsoft and others, to help people find what they need. Make sure there are no security gaps between different tools. Some law firms, for example, need to help freelancers (sometimes up to 50% of the lawyer workforce) access data stores, even when working from remote locations and with a wide range of devices. Microsoft has a great tool to help manage this securely. Both of these tasks – integration and security – can benefit from a partner guiding you to the right solution.
- Use AI and automation to help you
Make sure you automate as many tasks as you can, to make information more accessible. This could be as simple as setting up automated filters for organising email, or as complex as automating common processes like flagging important documents for follow-up using low-code tools.
It’s also now possible to use machine learning to automatically scan data and tag, classify, or label information such as invoices, client letters, board meeting minutes, or proposals. Doing this makes information easier to find. In addition, you can set documents containing the code name of a secret deal or project to automatically have extra security precautions. This can reduce the risk of users accidentally sharing confidential information.
Microsoft is also beginning to push data at users in ‘feeds’ – using AI to figure out what’s likely to be immediately relevant to users, based on their meetings, searches, and usage, and presenting information to them before they even start looking for it. It has also announced the next wave of AI innovation that will be added to their products, called Microsoft Copilot, which we expect to be a quantum leap forward – watch this space.
- Find a trusted partner
There is no standard approach here. Every business is unique and must find the right technology and set up to suit its needs. At the same time, almost all businesses need a strategy to rationalise their technology estates. Speak to Doherty Associates about formulating the right plan to make the most of Microsoft tech. Help your people find what they need, and to be as productive as possible.