It’s time to have an executive “conversation.” You know which one. The one that is tied to personal and organizational health. Here’s a typical checklist:
- Watch my cholesterol.
- Get out of the office and manage more by walking around.
- Get my blood pressure checked.
- Focus on outcomes, not on dictating everything that must be done.
- Get more exercise.
- Travel less and spend more time at home.
- Eat more fiber.
- Get my oil changed every 3,000 miles.
- Get serious about information governance.
OK, OK, OK. I’ll do 1 through 8. I promise. I’ll be serious this time. I’ll do them ALL if you’ll just lay off number 9. Just please, please, please, don’t talk to me about information governance. Ever.
When I talk to executives, I often explain the importance of effective information management in terms something like this:
“You have financial systems in place to manage your organization’s financial assets. You have ERP systems in place to manage its physical assets. You have HR systems to manage your people assets. In the Information Age, you need a system and a process to manage your information assets.”
Usually I get a lot of executive head nods when I say things like this. Yet when push comes to shove, there’s a lot more good intention going on relative to information governance than concrete action.
According to AIIM’s Information Governance - records, risks and retention in the litigation age in only 15% of organization’s is Information Governance “in place, important and communicated and enforced.” 15%.
There are a lot of reasons for this gap between intentions and reality:
- An assumption that “somebody” will handle this.
- A lack of executive buy-in.
- A lack of buy-in from key stakeholders.
- Projects with ill-defined scope and objectives.
- The business has more important things to do.
All of the above are true, but I feel the real reason for inaction is that the WHY? of information governance is not fully understood – at a gut level – by executives. It’s the same with the other items on the above Executive Check List. NO ONE eats more fiber or goes to the gym every day just because it’s good for you, at least once the glow of New Year’s Resolutions fades. The habit will not be sustained unless the underlying rationale is fully internalized.
Some of the ways we have traditionally spoken about Information Governance don’t really help it meet this gut test. According to Gartner, “Information governance is the specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archival, and deletion of information. It includes the processes, roles, standards and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information in enabling an organization to achieve its goals.”
Yikes. I guess this is true, but not really what will get executive blood flowing. The Economist Intelligence Unit found that the single biggest worldwide challenge to successful adoption of information governance is the difficulty in identifying its benefits and costs.
Executives typically care about results and accountability for the following:
1 – Increasing revenues.
2 – Reducing costs.
3 – Reducing risk.
That’s it. And if that’s the case, it is through this triad that the WHY? of information governance must be understood if we’re going to make any progress in this area at all. Let’s take them in reverse order.
Reducing risk. This is perhaps the best understood WHY? of information governance. If you are in an industry in which there are either compliance or litigation concerns and costs (uhhh…let’s see…is there one in which these are not a concern?) then the only way to reduce this risk is to have defensible information management policies.
However, this is where the argument for information governance usually stops. Usually this leaves governance in the hands of people with “Information,” “Legal,” or “Records” in their title. In a tight economy in which competitive pressures are constantly rising, I fear that risk alone is a necessary but not sufficient reason to take information governance seriously. Forrester’s Alan Weintraub notes, “Good information governance isn’t just about risk, it’s about making the business more agile.”
Reduce costs. Left to their own devices, the “business” will view litigation, compliance, storage costs related to ever-increasing volumes of information as externalities. They will assume that “someone else” will pay for it, and continue to engage in a content and information consumption binge that will inevitably result in what IBM’s George Parapadakis calls “content obesity.” Per the Compliance, Governance, and Oversight Council, “90% of the data in the world was created in the last two years. We have reached a tipping point: the growth rate of information now far exceeds IT budgets and the processes for governing that information.”
The ONLY way to reduce these costs is by reducing the scale of information being saved. And the ONLY way to do this effectively is through information governance. And the ONLY way to scale information governance is by automating as much of it as possible.
Increasing revenues. Talk to any executive long enough and inevitably something like the following will come up: “We need to increase customer engagement as a pathway to capturing share and growing revenues.”
For many years, the content management industry has talked about “getting the right information to the right person at the right time to make the right decision.” Even though this rationale was overstated in the early era of content management systems, it is now at the heart of the business problem of customer engagement. Information overload and content chaos threaten to overwhelm our ability to understand and act on customer needs. It is through this prism that we need to consider information governance.
Content and information is the currency that flows through all of our core processes. Absent a strategy and framework for making its management an organizational priority, no one will be accountable for its success or failure. Per Gartner’s Deb Logan – “the root of all of our problems with information…is the fact that there is no accountability for information as such.”
So the time has come for the executive suite to take action. Get out of the office and manage more by walking around. Get more exercise. And get serious about information governance.
Have you checked out AIIM's new Information Governance course?