In the 'bad old days' before electronic systems swept all before them, many organisations had a registry which controlled, named, tracked, retrieved and stored paper files and was staffed by file clerks. Success depended upon the skills and care of the organisation's administrators but in practice this was often variable. It did mean that with suitable permissions and controls many members of staff could share the information that the files contained (although not simultaneously). Electronic systems, especially desktop PCs, did away with all of this, but did not really replace it with anything comparable. It was not thought necessary. Changed days have changed requirements. One way of looking at a corporate file plan is as technique for re-asserting control over corporate information assets.
The Model Publication Schemes to which most Universities and post-16 Colleges in the UK have signed up are organised by function. It was the only way in which such templates could be devised given the great variety of organisational structures. The main functional high-level categories in Scottish Higher Education are:
1. GENERAL INFORMATION2. ACCESS TO INFORMATION3. GOVERNANCE4. FINANCIAL RESOURCES5. CORPORATE PLANNING6. PROCUREMENT7. MANAGEMENT OF RESEARCH8. COMMERCIALISATION AND KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER9. HUMAN RESOURCES10. PHYSICAL RESOURCES11. HEALTH AND SAFETY12. SUPPORT FOR DISABLED PEOPLE13. STUDENT ADMINISTRATION AND SUPPORT14. TEACHING QUALITY15. INFORMATION SERVICES16. EXTERNAL AND COMMUNITY RELATIONS17. GOVERNMENT AND REGULATOR RELATIONS
The Colleges' version is very similar except that Category 7 has been removed. JISC Legal's website gives the links both to those for Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Functions do not change over time
Files can be easily identified and used without affecting the fileplan classification
There is a greater spread of ownership
There is better search and retrieval of information
The transition from paper to e-systems becomes simpler and more transparent
New functions can be added
Work processes are identified and mapped
A fileplan and taxonomy has to be devised as part of the preparation for electronic document and records management systems
Implementing such a system across an institution requires a cultural shift in the organisation and attitudes. It also requires confidence in the systems in place. It is both an organisation and a people issue.
To the 'first-timer' the relationship between the organisational structure in Departments, schools and faculties which is easily understood does not relate immediately to the corporate file structure by function. This appears to be an intellectual abstraction rather than a business tool. The curious thing to say is that once in place such a system it becomes almost second nature, because it removes the uncertainty of 'What shall I call this, and where shall I file it so that I can find it again?'
The major hurdle to be overcome is the perception that work is 'my work' rather than part of a bigger business process which must be shared (and in practice usually is). The key is not who owns the work, but how the work is done.
Older ways of organising files by subject, creator or department become irrelevant, and the feeling of personal loss of control of file taxonomy has to be counteracted by making it easier to retrieve and share all information.