Where is my file?

I started my morning participating in a very interesting conversation with a small businessperson well into their fifth year of a small health service business. The jest of the conversation revolved around the concept of Production files, as opposed to non-Production or revised Production files.

I often encounter issues that are second nature to me but cause quite a bit of consternation for very smart computer savvy business people. This is one of those issues. We all work very hard and have internal competing interests. In the heat of the battle, there seems to be quite a propensity to loose track of Production files in revision as well as threaten the integrity of existing Production files.

We quite simply put our own work at risk; because we forget where it is or which version we are working on. Let me try to explain by using a very common example.

Suppose your business uses a Microsoft Word document named custinfo.doc printed on nice company letterhead, as a paper form to hand write new customer information on. Once completed, the paper form is passed to an office clerk. The clerk then enters the new customer information into QuickBooks as a new customer record.

In this scenario, we have two computer “Production files” that we are dealing with, custinfo.doc and the QuickBooks company file, company.qbw For the sake of simplicity, lets say that these are the only two computer “Production files” that we are presently using; however, we plan to grow and use many more computer “Production files” in our business in the future.

Suppose that your receptionist does a great job of form design, but knows nothing about content. Suppose one of your office clerks, the one using QuickBooks for customer records, know everything about the information needed for a customer record, but is a terrible form designer. Suppose all three of you decide that you need a new improved “new customer information” form and you use the custinfo.doc Production file as a starting point for your new form.

If you are like the typical small business, over the course of the next several days, while collaborating on the “new customer information” form, the three of you will create many versions of the original custinfo.doc Production file. Many of the files will be named custinfo.doc or custinfo1.doc, custinfo2.doc, cust-info.doc, custinforevised.doc, custinforevised2.doc, custinforevised3.doc, custinforevised20.doc and so on. You will most likely have several files in different places with the same name. You get the point.

To make matters worse, the files will be located in your email, on your “Desktop”, in “My Documents” or on the company server in the “Shared Files” folder.

To make matters even worse, the original custinfo.doc file on your receptionist’s computer is different from the custinfo.doc file on the company server, and different yet from the custinfo.doc file on your office clerk’s computer.

You can certainly see the state of confusion that can surround Production files and non-Production or revised Production files in a typical business environment. Over time, keeping up with this confusion without a well-documented business process is beyond the mental capacity of normal human beings.

So, what is a strapped for time businessperson to do?

I would suggest that you follow some guidelines to create a business process for:

1. Production file stability and
2. Regimented Production file reversion.

You will also need to assure that your infrastructure is configured to do the job correctly, without adding to the confusion.

Your infrastructure consists of both hardware, your servers, desktop pcs, laptops, network switches, routers, cables etc., and, software, your operating systems, word processing software, spreadsheet software, email software, etc. If you are having difficulty with your hardware, such as intermittent Internet connectivity, freezing computers or troublesome networking printing, now is not the time to begin a collaborative computer intensive project. Get your hardware infrastructure fully functional first.

If you find that you have persistent problems reading email attachments or other documents on your or your coworkers’ computers, it is time to take an accounting of the software on each of your computers. You will need to have the same sets of software necessary to completing your task. You will also need to have identical versions of the software or understand how to achieve backward compatibility to the oldest version of software that you will need to collaborate with.

For example, you might decide to use Microsoft Word to modify the custinfo.doc Production file. Your two employees might have Microsoft Word 2003 and you might have Microsoft Word 2007. Your Microsoft Word 2007 software requires you to save your documents in the older .doc format of Microsoft Word 2003. You will need to learn how to save your documents correctly, so that each of you can read and modify files.

Once your infrastructure, both hardware and software, can support your project, it is time to consider a configuration in software that will facilitate your day to day activities to complete your project. You will need to create a network accessible folder structure to support your collaborative efforts as well as your shared file resources.

1 – Production file stability process.

Production file stability is all about using your applications correctly and keeping your Production files in a single unique location in an isolated and secure folder on a local network resource for all necessary players to locate and use.

Automated backup and full recoverability becomes one of the added benefits to achieving Production file stability.

Microsoft Word provides a good example demonstrating correct use of your applications in the process of achieving Production file stability. Avoid the urge to use doc extensions as your Production files.

When using documents that change upon use, like a fax cover sheet, use Word templates as Production files. Templates have a built in security model that creates a second doc extension file for use in the course of everyday business.

When using documents that never change, like a HIPAA privacy rights to be signed document, use a secured Adobe pdf extension file. You can see how you must know both Word and Adobe to understand precisely what you are doing in these examples.

Reasonable planning must be done to determine network locations for Production files. Your configuration depends upon your resources. You may have a full-blown network file server with network operating system user security or you may have only a small amount of space on a local desktop computer’s drive.

Determine the byte size needed to contain your present Production files as well as capacity needed five years from now. Determine your security needs. Then, procure the equipment or engage a professional to help procure and configure the equipment. You have options for secure Production file storage that you have never dreamed of.

Create a hierarchical folder structure within which to keep your Production files, something like the example below, and then use a backup Template to backup the top-level folder (Company A) and everything under it.

Company A
  Production Files
    Vendors
        Vendor A
        Vendor B
     Customers
         Customer A
         Customer B
     Templates
         New Customer Information
         Template B
     QuickBooks
         Data
         Backups
         WhatIfData

2 – Regimented Production file reversion process.

Once you’ve created a hierarchical folder structure within which to keep your Production files, the file reversion projects such as the new improved “new customer information” form used in our example become much easier to work with.

Remember our folder structure from above? Simply add an area where we can work with and manage file reversion projects.

Company A
  Production Files
    Vendors
        Vendor A
        Vendor B
     Customers
         Customer A
         Customer B
     Templates
         New Customer Information
         Template B
     QuickBooks
         Data
         Backups
         WhatIfData
 Project Files
     New Customer Information
         Current Working File
         Office Clerk Notes and File Revisions
         Reception Notes and Revisions
         Manager Notes and Revisions
     New Project 2
          Current Working File

As you work on your projects, time stamp each file name so that you can keep them all unique. Your production “New Customer Information” form might be called something like “NewCustomerInformation.doc”

Name your revisions 200904191324- NewCustomerInformation.doc with 200904191324 representing the date and time of the revision. This naming allows you to recall an earlier version as well as knowing your most recent version. The time stamp avoids files with the same unique names, because of the rare occurrence that any person in the group would save a file at the exact time.

Although you might do creative work on a file revision on your laptop at home’ once completed be certain to copy the file to the correct network location. This people process requires discipline and enforcement, but the benefit is certainly worth the effort.

When your team completes the new “New Customer Information” form, replace the production file in “\\Company A\Production Files\Templates\New Customer Information” with the new production file.

Your working project files will also be backed up during each backup cycle.

If you use these processes of Production file stability and Regimented Production file reversion, you will experience a renewed sense of confidence in your computing environment. If you have Continual Data Protection or other Backup process in place, your files become much easier to restore in the event of a business systems failure.

If you need help deploying these processes in your office, please contact me. I could use the work.

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