Is your information an asset or liability?
August 2015 | SPECIAL REPORT: TECHNOLOGY IN BUSINESS
Financier Worldwide Magazine
Information is increasingly described as a ‘key corporate asset’, the ‘lifeblood of organisations’ or ‘the crown jewels’. Do your email, shared drives and document management system add value to the corporate bottom line? If not, it is time to consider solutions to avoid your information becoming an unquantified liability and potential driver of risk.
Information Governance (IG) has emerged as the approach that will bring order to information chaos, create information assets from liabilities and create efficiencies while containing risk. A strong IG strategy resolves the problem of electronically stored information growing in complexity and volume at a pace beyond contemplation and manageability.
There are many definitions of IG circulating on the web. Succinctly, IG is a multi-disciplinary approach to managing information at an enterprise level, supporting an organisation’s immediate and future regulatory, legal, risk, business and operational requirements. Most important in that description is the emphasis on ‘immediate and future’ requirements. The rate of change in information and information technology continues to increase. A set of rules and tools for today will not be sufficient for the challenges of tomorrow. An effective IG strategy will take this into account and create an information environment that is sustainable.
The benefits of IG are many. The financial liability of ungoverned organisational information is mounting. The time wasted in finding necessary information, the cost of hardware for storing and backing up redundant, outdated and trivial information (ROT) and the lack of effective knowledge management all have an impact on profitability.
Notwithstanding all of the risks inherent in the status quo, and the benefits of IG, there is a pervasive institutional paralysis preventing many from moving from problem to solution. An informal survey at any business lunch confirms the obvious – we are all contributors to the digital landfill. We cringe at our own email inbox and personal drive information hoarding practices, and we are all looking for an easy solution that does not yet exist. The fact is that for most of us there is simply too much information crossing our devices on a daily basis for us to keep track of it ourselves.
Cyber security is another IG driver. Cyber security has become more than an IT concern. A breach has the potential to cost millions to remediate; it can destroy reputations, crush share value and create an enormous legal liability. Building bigger and better firewalls does not alone create cyber security – protecting sensitive information requires that it be properly identified, all copies appropriately stored, and access managed and monitored.
In most organisations, there is no one responsible for all information. The traditional model has a CIO, who will take full responsibility for storing, preserving and organising information according to the business units’ requirement, but who is not responsible for the content itself. The responsibility for the technology side may be with either the CIO or a CTO, but again, that function has no ownership over content. Some organisations have an information management group or director but, all too often, the responsibility carried there is for ensuring that there are rules in place for records retention, disposition and organisation for compliance purposes. However, the responsibility for the content still remains with the individual business units and authors.
If information governance is the panacea, why are so many organisations still struggling? The answer is fairly simple. The problem is just too big in both concept and execution for many organisations to tackle with their current staff. Information bloat, like global warming, took years to rise to the level of a crisis. The problem is caused by a multitude of factors and the solution will require substantial and systemic change. And, people are reluctant to change when it means sacrificing their convenience for an amorphous common good. To implement an IG initiative requires expertise, a careful assessment of the current state, clearly identified objectives, recognition of operational imperatives and an incremental approach.
One unfortunate response to information bloat is to fall victim to the belief that what is really needed is better technology. Technology is certainly a part of the solution, but it is by no means the most important part. Instead of buying the latest and greatest product, invest in expertise first. Whether you staff up internally or bring consultants to your table, you will need to have experienced resources that understand your business, your people and your information, dedicated to your IG project. An interesting trend has emerged in the IG space – e-discovery lawyers, consultants and vendors are establishing themselves as the thought leaders and experts in delivering IG solutions. Why does this make sense? E-discovery experts have been mining the digital landfill for decades, and the expertise and insight they have gained is invaluable on an IG project. E-discovery experts have years of experience in understanding corporate practices, identifying, collecting, organising and tagging information, and providing advice and direction on privacy, security, legal and regulatory compliance. If your organisation has e-discovery counsel, include them in your IG planning.
Companies should accept that IG is a very big project, and that it often takes years to fully implement. Focus some of your efforts on achievable goals and interim deliverables. Too many of these projects fail in year one when, despite a large spend and lots of backroom activity, there is no change visible to the operational and executive staff. Delivering positive change is necessary to maintain momentum.
It is also important to address the low hanging fruit, and demonstrate a return on investment early on. This will ensure IG is seen in a positive light at the executive table. Start by getting rid of ROT in your corporate repositories. With a minimal investment, the volume of useless information being stored, backed up and clogging your search results can be significantly reduced. The ROI is easy to demonstrate.
In addition, keep your eye on the end goal. Your IG project is not about getting your legacy information organised; it is about creating a sustainable information environment. There is limited value in getting everything organised this year if the chaos will return next year. Sustainability is one of the most challenging elements of IG. It will require an ongoing commitment, dedicated and accountable IG staff, and a change in organisational culture.
Many organisations have not begun to address their information problems, perhaps because IG is generally not a burning platform. While no great evil will befall those who delay, the reality is that they are missing a great opportunity. Ungoverned information accumulates daily, and the incremental cost of managing it until it is dealt with is a waste. The biggest loss, however, is not the cost but the failure to benefit from the value of the information. Benefits such as improved knowledge management, improved collaboration, better business intelligence, improved corporate efficiency or improved security ought to make IG a priority in all organisations. Unmanaged information provides a unique opportunity to convert a liability into an asset. The sooner you get it under control, the better.
Duncan Fraser is vice president and senior legal counsel at Wortzmans. He can be contacted on +1 (416) 642 9026 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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