Document Management Must Say Goodbye to Folders

“Where are my folders ?” We hear this question a lot from customers when they start to use Veeva Vault.

Now, it is not really a strange question because people are used to doing things in a certain way simply because it’s the way it’s always been done. Using folders is a great example of this. Look at traditional document management systems — they use cabinets and folders because they mimic how physical paper has been managed for hundreds of years. Using folders kind of worked, until that is, end-users started to really struggle with poorly structured information repositories. For example, users wanted to have hierarchy structures by region or function, or more commonly, both.

The end result? A hugely complicated folder structure with embedded overlap duplication and confusion, making it extremely hard to browse and find the documents users were looking for.


I had a discussion the other day with a regulatory end-user from a respected pharma company who complained about the fact that his company needed to hire a battery of librarians. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, the user explained that he had created and maintained a large spreadsheet that represented the document management folder structure, along with the location of the regulatory documents he was working on. Every time this user would need a document in the system, he would consult the spreadsheet to locate the document and then browse through the folder structure of the document management systems accordingly. Without hiring librarians to maintain these complicated folder structures, there would be no way for employees to find the appropriate documents in a reasonable time, if at all.

I couldn’t believe my ears and was left completely flabbergasted about the seriousness of his proposal. But unfortunately, this approach is common practice in many life sciences organizations today.

Imagine if you had to perform a search on Google, Amazon or Facebook, and it returned a screen full of folders? What an awful user experience that would be.

Technology has evolved; with Web 2.0, new ways of managing large amounts of unstructured data have emerged. The combination of tags and filters provides a powerful capability for managing content in a single, easy-to-use interface that supersedes any complex multi-disciplinary folder structure you can think of. These tags can automatically present the documents in a virtual structure — no physical folders, no manual placement of documents required.

The consumer web has embraced this new way of thinking. So why are we still allowing ourselves to be tortured by archaic technologies at work? If finding a document were as easy as finding a book on Amazon, users would be highly more productive – not to mention more sane.

It’s time for companies to adapt to new technology. Their employees will thank them.

Rik van Mol is VP Vault, Europe.