IG is Everyone's Problem Now

By Barclay Blair

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In my February column, Making the Case for Information Governance we looked at three reasons that information governance (IG) make sense:

  1. We can't keep everything forever;
  2. We can't throw everything away; and
  3. E-Discovery.

In this column, I want to build on this list by adding three more reasons why CIO should be investing in IG:

Reason #4: Your employees are asking for it if you just listen

“When you start to actively address your organization's information overload challenges and give people the guidance and tools they need to work more effectively, amazing things happen. They start to make better decisions. They finish projects faster. They generate new ideas. And they drive business growth.”

- Basex Information Overload Exposure Assessment

IG makes sense because it helps knowledge workers separate “signal” from “noise” in their information flows. By helping organizations focus on the most valuable information, IG improves information delivery and improves productivity.

Study after study shows that most knowledge workers feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to deal with. One AIIM International study found that “sheer overload” is the biggest problem with email as a business tool. [i] Another study says that most professionals spent way too much time looking for information and feel they could not handle any “increases in information flow.”[ii] Yet another study claims that companies in the U.S. lose $900 billion each year worth of employee productivity due to information overload.[iii]

My experience with implementing IG programs has taught me that, after a period of initial resistance, most knowledge workers appreciate the clarity that IG policies and technology provide. Rather than struggling to invent their own “filing system” and worrying about the trouble that they may face if they get it wrong, the majority of employees quickly understand the value of IG and make it part of their daily routine.

The deluge of poorly managed, redundant, irrelevant, and unclassified information that most knowledge workers face today is huge and growing. IG can improve productivity and reduce the impact of information overload by helping organizations:

Reason #5: It ain’t getting any easier

“By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense of urgency in fellow managers and employees. This error is fatal because transformations always fail to achieve their objectives when complacency levels are high.”

- John P. Kotter, “Leading Change,” Harvard Business School Press, 1996.

IG makes sense because it is a proven way for organizations to respond to new laws and technologies that create new requirements and challenges. The problem of IG will not get easier over time, so organizations should get started now.

Every day the pile of unmanaged information in your organization grows. Every day the habits of your knowledge workers get more ingrained. Every day new technologies enter your enterprise and create new sources of unmanaged risk. Every day technology gets more complex. Every day courts and regulators grow more sophisticated and demanding when it comes to information management.

Time will not make the information management problem any easier.

More regulation of information management is expected.

Beginning as early as the 1970s (with privacy law directed at the federal government) and intensifying in the early years of the new millennium (with Sarbanes-Oxley and the revised Federal Rules of Civil Procedure), governments, regulators, and standards bodies have demonstrated an increasing appetite for the regulation of IT and information. Increasing federal and state regulation has driven demand for IG products and services.

The current administration, as well as regulators in nations across the globe, have demonstrated an increasing appetite for regulation; an appetite that seems only to be increasing in the wake of the recent global economic crisis that is widely seen as having a root cause in inadequate government oversight and regulation. This is likely to drive legal and regulatory changes that will create new IG requirements for organizations.

And information is getting more complex.

The growing business use of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis, and social networking tools, along with other developments such as cloud-based applications, are making information management more challenging. The emergence of such technologies is a challenge to trational command and control methodologies and thinking.

The reality today is that each knowledge worker is his or her own records manager. Responsibility for the creation and management of information is highly distributed and a new generation of Internet-based tools and applications only encourage this trend.

In addition, technologies like Google Wave create new difficulties. Products that blend together formerly discrete communication, collaboration and content creation tools challenge the long-standing focus on “the document” and usher in a world where we no longer manage discrete piece of information. The “wave” of information created by these tools is an ever-changing Hydra that pulls information from a variety of sources and blends them together into an environment that cannot be “retained” or managed using traditional approaches.

As technology and the new forms of information created by that technology grows more complex, IG provides the foundation from which we can build processes and techniques to properly manage that information.

IG isn’t getting any easier so the time to act is now.

Reason #6: IG is the future of organizational culture

“While detailed knowledge of a single area once guaranteed success, today the top rewards go to those who can operate with equal aplomb in starkly different realms.”

- Daniel Pink, “A Whole New Mind”

IG makes sense because it reflects the future of organizational culture – diverse groups working together to solve complex problems. IG can help to foster this culture and lead organizational change.

In the bestselling book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel H. Pink argues that the future belongs to those who can see across boundaries to envision the “connections between diverse, and seemingly separate, disciplines.” He posits that this ability is becoming essential to the success of individuals and organizations.

This theory is directly applicable to IG. IG, with its legal, technology, records management, and business elements, is by nature multi-disciplinary. Success in IG is synonymous with the ability to peer beyond the confines of one discipline to understand how each discipline connects with the others to solve the problem.

In Managing the Crowd: Rethinking Records Management for the Web 2.0 World, Steve Bailey suggests that “[r]ecords management has ... long been defined by the narrowness of its focus” But, records management shouldn’t be singled out. Just as records management has clung to the idea that it should only worry about one narrow class of information (i.e., records -- often in paper form), IT has largely refused to take management responsibility for the information flowing through its systems. Business leaders and attorneys have their own form of blinders that are a barrier to the connected thinking and problem solving that IG requires.

As a consultant, I have many times sat in windowless rooms drinking terrible coffee and mediating between these groups. Although this is rewarding work, the pattern is always the same: nobody understands that they are all trying to solve the same problem. Each group is more than willing to share their discipline’s view of the problem (often using their “outside voices”), but nobody believes that they “own” the IG problem as a whole.

And, in most cases they are right.

Corporate governance structures mostly have not evolved to address the complex issues of IG. The result? When the committees and task forces and working groups have all come and gone, nobody is on the line -- in their career and their paycheck -- for the success of the IG effort.

The flipside of this is equally true. When everyone owns a task, nobody in particular owns the task. Thus, nobody can be held accountable. Corporate structures aren’t very good at holding groups responsible, at least at the task level.

In mediating such sessions, I am most successful when each group learns -- often through a traumatic experience -- to empathize with the others (incidentally, another “right brain” quality that Pink points out as essential). Any guesses as to what the catalyst for this empathy is the majority of the time? Yep, lawsuits and investigations. Major business events that require legal, IT, records management, and business to work together -- often under enormous pressure -- to solve a common problem.

Barclay T. Blair is a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, software and hardware vendors, and government institutions, author, speaker, and internationally recognized authority on a broad range information governance issues. He is the founder and principal of ViaLumina Group, Ltd. His blog, Essays in Information Governance , is highly regarded in the information governance community. Barclay is the award-winning author of several books, including Information Nation, and is currently writing Information Governance for Dummies. Barclay is a faculty member of CGOC (www.cgoc.com).