controlling chaos (rudall30/Shutterstock.com)

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Overcoming information governance inertia

Making information governance a high priority in the enterprise is a tall order. It is fair to say that perceptions around IG and its predecessor, document management, are that of back-office IT functions that reside “out of sight and out of mind” in a faraway data center. Hot tech concepts like DevOps, cloud, internet of things and digital transformation grab more headlines than IG, which is often perceived as being “not close to the business.” As such, it frequently gets pushed to the back of the line when it comes to IT prioritization.

Nevertheless, IG is challenged by sprawling amounts of siloed agency data, with petabytes of unknown information floating around on servers, driving ever-increasing storage costs while inhibiting access to current, accurate and legally-compliant data across the enterprise. What’s more, a robust IG policy is essential to enable digital transformation, as well as many of today’s advanced technologies designed to drive agency missions forward.

The most basic drivers for IG revolve around security, data privacy and legal compliance. Many organizations do enough in the area of IG to just “get by” and meet basic requirements, Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder of the research and consulting firm Deep Analysis, pointed out in a recent webinar. Those that do not address IG are typically saddled with vast amounts of unstructured, redundant data that increases work cycles and operational cost. In addition, bad data and lack of accountability can lead to wrong decisions. What’s more, the lack of an IG policy limits the implementation of machine learning, artificial intelligence and blockchain programs due to a lack of clean data.

Robust IG policies can deliver much more than risk avoidance to the enterprise; according to Pelz-Sharpe, the overall IG goals should include bringing order to IT platforms, data and corporate information; preventing chaos; and saving time and money. The purpose of good governance is not to stay out of trouble but to run an efficient set of managed and controlled services for the enterprise, he noted.

‘Just enough’ IG is not really enough

With respect to information governance, compliance-driven thinking is strategically incorrect, Pelz-Sharpe said. Taking control of data and information assets decreases the volume of content, lowers storage costs and streamlines information management. In addition, visibility into more accurate information provides the basis for better decisions that impact the enterprise.

Unfortunately, most IT managers have little control, and despite potential IG benefits, a sprawling amount of siloed and ungoverned data exists. According to one Deep Analysis client,  “We have over 1 billion documents in our system and no way of knowing what is of value and what is not.” 

A senior administrator of a U.S. city described his challenges with disconnected, independent city departments now under pressure to work together more efficiently. Many of these departments have been around for generations and become fiefdoms, resulting in numerous disconnected silos with no central control. Pressure from citizens and top officials is finally forcing departments to figure out a more unified method of city government, one in which citizens or officials can make one call and get correct answers to their questions, no matter how many departments are involved. Today that’s a pipe dream, but government officials, citizens and businesses alike are demanding change. The first step to deliver this unified system of information management is to apply governance.

Breaking governance inertia: Getting started

For an organization that eventually decides to tackle IG, Pelz-Sharpe recommended attention to three key principles: focus on the relevant, let information govern itself and automate the process.

To focus on the relevant, create a heat map of the highest-priority IG issues. IT should first evaluate what information is most at risk, assess the size of the problem and address the highest impact priorities first, like the risk of data privacy breaches. For example, an agency might prioritize any documents containing personally identifying information and apply tight governance to those. On the other hand, marketing data might be a lower priority, given its reduced risk profile even if temporarily ungoverned. The heat map offers an interesting and surprisingly quick exercise and can change how enterprises view their information assets as well as offering new insights into how to balance risk.

The concept of letting information “govern itself" is based on the idea that not every information asset is of equal value and that it is difficult to manage everything equally well. Some types of information, such as contracts, are clearly very important, while other documents are less so. That is why it is useful to identify the most important types of information, define simple and defensible rules around those information assets and apply automated rules to those assets, including retention, disposition, compliance, access and discovery. The final part of this step is to monitor, audit and adjust the rules as needed to support the agency mission and meet compliance requirements.

The third key element of overcoming IG inertia is automation through process. Because information does not live in a void and business processes interact with information, a significant amount of effective governance can be achieved by applying simple, automated and defensible rules. Enterprises should include governance controls in process design to allow the system to drive implementation rules, keeping in mind the many benefits of automation, including reduced risk, greater consistency and decreased operational overhead.

The bottom line: IG is about enabling competitive advantage

The time to break free from information governance inertia is now. Huge increases in data volume will continue and agency resources will continue to be constrained. Governance initiatives should be aligned with business strategies, providing a foundation for digital transformation and other advanced technologies designed to serve the agency mission. By starting with three relatively simple IG principles -- focusing on the relevant, letting information govern itself  and driving automation through process -- today’s agencies can leverage IG to bring order to chaos, gain insight into “black boxes,” reduce redundancy and increase  efficiency.

About the Author

George Parapadakis is director of business solutions strategy at Alfresco Software Inc.

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