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Summit Stories: Filenaming conventions for DAM success

by Nate Holmes, November 16, 2016

If you could add 10 seconds to a process that leads to hours of time savings across your organization, would you?

We want our teams to work efficiently, to spend less time on mundane tasks and more time using their creativity and problem-solving skills to move the company forward. Finding files is one of those mundane tasks everyone experiences. Some of us work with text-heavy documents. Some of us work with visual files like photographs and videos. But when any of us are looking for a file to complete our work and can’t find it, that’s a barrier to productivity.

Too often asset management is ignored or viewed as a problem for creatives to work out on their own. It’s not a personal problem, it’s an organizational problem. Matthew Azeveda, Digital Asset Manager at SolarCity, shared his thoughts on digital asset management (DAM) during the 2016 Widen Summit. He shared how often DAM admins are underappreciated and misunderstood. People tend to dump a mess of files on them and expect them to do something with it.

The value of DAM is too great to be just part of one person’s job.

Is filenaming a waste of time?

It’s pretty common for filenaming to be perceived as a waste of time. We’re in a rush to complete the task at hand and move on to the next one. Pausing for 10 seconds to properly name the file doesn’t always happen. We’re in a rush, which leads to inconsistently named files.

Matthew shared how dataless files meant SolarCity employees were spending hours searching for files, results were not resolute, and redundant rebuilds were likely. “If a file isn’t searchable, then it’s not useable, and if it’s not useable, it’s a wasted asset, and it’s wasted money.” Before DAM, “All the files on these CDs are always named the same….It’s going to be a problem for the users if they end up copying these files to a folder; it’s going to ask them if they’d like to replace these files.”

A strong filenaming convention saves your organization time and money

The biggest win for a consistent filenaming convention is the ability to find files faster.

Without a DAM system

Without a proper filenaming convention or a system facilitating the search of metadata, your teams are left to digging through shared folders and email chains. A filenaming convention gives your team the ability to search for filenames, which is better than nothing. It provides breadcrumbs of information about the content of the file without opening the file in another program.

A filename convention also helps prevent confusion around duplication and lost files. With commonly used filenames like presentationdraft.ppt or pricing.doc, one could easily save the file, be prompted to replace the file, and lose the previous file that was only a duplicate by filename and not content.

With a DAM system

Yes, a DAM system plays a critical role in finding files, but the system relies on people and processes to apply correct filenames and metadata.

A properly named file provides data for you to search on even if metadata hasn’t been entered. If the file is outside of your DAM system, the information in the filename helps you understand the file’s contents without having to open the file in another program.

Spend less time naming files

For those taking time to put thought into a filename, you’ll save them time by providing a framework for them to use. They’ll spend less time wondering what information to include in the filename.

Reinforce brand consistency

“A shared vocabulary develops, evolves, and builds consistency,” Matthew said. Your filenames can further your team’s exposure to proper brand terminology.

The ideal filenaming convention

Matthew says, “The ideal would be to look at an asset filename and, without opening or previewing it, determine the content and context that helps answer the who, what, where, and when conditions that will facilitate searching, data entry, file management, and user support.”

Create your organization’s filenaming convention

Creating a filenaming convention can be a challenge. Here are some actions you can take to identify a convention for your organization.

Action 1: Assess the business and its products, services, and infrastructure

Your first action should be to collect information on all the various files and their contents. This will give you a bigger view of what’s being used across the organization and how others are interacting with the files.

Get to the who, what, where, and why of the brand before creating a filenaming convention.

  • Who: List all the groups creating, using, and managing files. Who are your content authors?
  • What: What’s in the files? What are the subjects of files? Do you have different brands?
  • Where: Where are files being created? Is location important to how people access and use your files? Or where they should be used?
  • When: When was the file created? When was it last revised? Is the year important information for the user?
  • Why: What’s the value of the file? How does it fit into your business model or day-to-day work?

Collecting more information about your files and business will give you more options for filenaming conventions. Don’t hesitate to talk to your teams to make sure you’re considering all the ways they look for files today. It’s okay if you gather a lot of info. In action 2, you’ll review the information gathered and narrow it down.

Action 2: Narrow down to what’s most important for file’s context

You’ve identified information about your files. Now it’s time to consider what information is important enough to be included in the filename and what will be better suited as a metadata field in your DAM system.

How do you decide what’s important enough to include in the filename? Think to what Matthew identified as the ideal filename. It should provide content and context.

A file’s creation date is a good example. If your teams are using dates to search for and identify files, it’s worth including them in the filename. The next decision is how granular your dates should be. For some, the year will be enough. They can use the date format of YYYY. For others, dates may be more time sensitive, so they’ll need the month and day. They can use the date format of YYYYMMDD.

Another example is including the creator in the filename. If you have a smaller team where you’re able to identify the contents of the file based on who created it, include the author’s initials in the filename. If not, add the author in the file’s metadata.

Action 3: Create the filenaming convention

You’ve identified the most important information for a file’s context. Now it’s time to format it. Things to consider while formating:

  • Include helpful, relevant information
  • Filenames should be easy to read.
    • Shorter filenames are easier for humans to scan quickly.
    • Use capital letters to delimit words for readability.*
    • Don’t use characters that are unreadable by computers.
  • Order in a way that allows for usefull sorting. For example, avoid “draft” at the start of work-in-progress files.*
  • Avoid redundancy.
  • Use meaningful abbreviations.**

SolarCity success with filenaming convention and their DAM system

“We developed a naming convention so when the users received their files, there was already context to the filename. Where you could look at it, I could look at some of these files and I know right away where that’s located, what format it is,” Matthew said. “We’re exposed to 25 departments and they all use it [the Widen Collective] and love it because everything can be found faster.”

Matthew and his team experienced success with filenaming conventions and their DAM system, and you can, too. Once you’ve identified a filenaming convention, your teams just need to spend a few more seconds to properly name your files. This small change will have a big impact on organizational efficiency.

Sources and other helpful filenaming information:

http://library.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/NamingConventions.pdf

*http://www.ed.ac.uk/records-management/records-management/staff-guidance/electronic-records/naming-conventions

**http://guides.lib.purdue.edu/c.php?g=353013&p=2378293

Topics: DAM

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