Info Gov in Stormy Waters

This past week I hosted a panel at the Document Strategy Forum in Chicago. The topic was a thorny one, Information Governance (or IG as those in the know call it). It’s an impressive-sounding term, but what does Information Governance mean? For some, it’s a modern term for traditional Records Management; for others, it relates to security and compliance. For still others, it refers to a holistic and strategic approach to managing all your organization’s data and files. So unsurprisingly, we didn’t reach a consensus on its core definition. But that’s not to say that this was not a good conference session, as I think we all left with something to think about, notably why something that makes such perfect sense (bringing order to chaos) is such an incredibly tough sell. Though I certainly don’t have all the answers, I think there are two things we can address to move Information Governance conversations forward.

Firstly, we need to sell the benefits of IG. Too often, people take a big stick approach and talk about security risks and the costs of noncompliance. Indeed, many examples of firms fined for noncompliance with information-specific regulations. And though you might think that would provide some motivation, it typically does not. Nobody thinks they will be the one getting caught and paying fines. Instead, I believe IG should be sold as something that will reduce your IT costs, improve efficiencies (and profits), make you more secure, reduce error rates, and positively add to the bottom line. That’s not to say the big stick approach doesn’t work at times, it does, but it’s a tactical rather than strategic approach to a complex set of problems.

Secondly, we need to define IG more clearly, and some are trying to do just that. For example, the organization InfoGov provides lots of excellent advice and guidance. But hard definitions are just that, hard. And I can’t help but wonder if the world of IG would do better if it sailed under a bigger mast. For example, Cybersecurity is a $150B industry, and good IG provides a perfect platform for implementing and managing a secure business. So in the long run, the world of IG may need to get on board another ship and ride bigger waves.

At the Chicago session, I used the British phrase “Fighting with Fog,” and it seems like a good metaphor. IG is not easily defined or categorized; it is more of a concept than practice. Even so, it’s a critical concept, particularly in a world of information overload, rising IT costs, economic uncertainty, and upheaval. Bringing some order to chaos should be an appealing concept, and if properly guided, a practice that should receive a more welcome embrace than it does today.

Finally, it’s worth noting that I have hosted many panels over the years, and they can be tricky affairs, with panelists often determined to turn them into sales pitches or a single panelist loudly dominating the discussion. Not the case here, though, and my sincere thanks go to Chris McNulty of Microsoft, Stephan Donze of AODocs, and Eric Howse of Zia Consulting for their excellent insights and for guiding the discussion through tricky waters.

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