Is Your Organization a Content Hoarder? Four Warning Signs to Look For

The other night, I watched an old episode of Hoarders. I’m not a big fan of reality shows, but this one was difficult to ignore. Like many of us, I’m both fascinated and repelled by the way some people keep piling up possessions despite the fact that they’re rendering their homes unsafe, unsanitary and virtually uninhabitable.

At work the next day one of our consultants talked about an organization experiencing major content management problems. It’s a large enterprise with several divisions, and each has its own ways of creating, storing and managing business-critical content. Many areas within the organization perform similar functions, but they all operate in silo’ed fashion and don’t share the content they have in common. Each area creates its own content, storing and managing it in its own way. Each has its own terminology, formats and processes for accessing the content.
Content hoarding: a real phenomenon, a real problem
As I listened, I realized that our consultant was describing a content hoarder. The analogy with what I saw on Hoarders was nearly perfect. Content is scattered everywhere—in the CMS, on employees’ hard drives, in emails, in manuals, in file cabinets, in notebooks, in employees’ heads. It’s inconsistent and disorganized. Nobody can find it when they need it, so they constantly create more. All this redundant, outdated, confusing and conflicting content clutters up the organization, causing massive inefficiencies. And just like the hoarders on TV, nobody admits that they have a problem. The only difference between the reality show and this case of content hoarding is that the organization’s neighbors aren’t complaining about the smell.
Impact of content hoarding: increased costs, increased risk
Content hoarding is costing this organization a fortune. It frustrates employees as well as regulators. It’s impacting productivity, causing errors and safety concerns, driving up operational costs and increasing risk of non-compliance. And it’s far from unique. Many organizations suffer from similar content hoarding problems.
Four warning signs to watch for
Watch for these four warning signs that your organization is a content hoarder.
  1. Do employees know where to quickly find the information they need, when they need it? Lost productivity caused by time spent seeking information that should be at people’s fingertips is an early sign that you may have a problem, especially if they’re searching different sources for the same information.
  2. Are some employees working with older versions of documents rather than the most recent revision? Outdated documentation is a common cause of inconsistencies, errors and non-conformances. The latest version, clearly marked as such, should be available to everyone. Older versions belong only in archives.
  3. Do people search through saved emails for important information that should be accessible elsewhere? This is a particularly telling signal that your organization’s content management strategy needs improvement. It’s a bad idea to use email for distributing revisions and updates—you need to incorporate modifications to existing documents into the documentation itself.  Storing sensitive or controlled information in email files causes security risks and may violate the law.
  4. Do other areas within your organization perform many of the same functions as your area, but don’t share content or best practices? The ongoing inefficiencies and “re-invention of the wheel” caused by situations like this lead to unnecessary costs as well as quality and compliance issues. Sharing of best practices benefits the entire organization.
I’ve listed four warning signs, but there are other key indicators of content hoarding problems. What are some that you’ve noticed? What have you done to remedy them? As we continue the discussion about managing and reusing content, your feedback and ideas are welcome. 

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