Snakes and ladders – the semantics of organograms
Much of the information stored in the workplace holds some information about who created it automatically stored in its metadata. In Office applications this is usually applied through Active Directory (AD) – the permissions and access tool. What AD often doesn’t know is a person’s job description or title and so over time the names of people associated with your content becomes meaningless.
Organograms (maps that display the structure of an organisation) show us who carries out the organisation’s functions, their formal relationships with others. This can provide a conceptual aid in the classification and discovery of content and data over time.
Using content analytics tools that offer text-mining and machine learning technology (artificial intelligence) we can identify, structure and enrich information, facts and events and enable top-level classification. These tools can support records managers, archivists, historians and social researchers as they explore and discover meaning in our information overload.
Organograms stored as data files (see data.gov.uk/organogram for a good example of this) and maintained over time as a living record of the organisation’s functions and who was responsible for carrying them out, can link these forgotten people to your business’ actual functions.
These relationships may also help to identify sensitive or protected information within the repository. For example, if a Personal Secretary creates documents on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, this relationship can be discerned and applied to the content to find sensitive material and protect and share it accordingly.
There are several flaws to this idea and it may even be more labour intensive than other methods of discovery. The tools currently available and being developed for discovery can already find and highlight relationships between content without knowing who people are or what their jobs were.
For example, if John Smith (the Personal Secretary) to Joan Smith (the Permanent Secretary) creates a breadcrumb trail through the content and this reveals contact with various senior management then that is interesting and will be picked up without knowing who the person is.
Another problem with using just organograms in this way is what we (or the organogram) say we do isn’t always what we actually do – and who we formally have relationships with isn’t necessarily, in reality, the picture of power and communication in an organisation that might be interesting to historians and social researchers.
We’re experiencing an evolution of the record because of its digital nature and vast size but without some sense of structure, and organograms are just one of many available, we could find ourselves on the ground floor without a ladder.