Building the business case for an information governance process

It isn’t always easy to sell corporate executives on an information governance program. Read about strategies for demonstrating the business value of information governance.

Articulating a general business case for an information governance program can be tough, especially when you have to explain that governance efforts never really end. Actually calculating a demonstrable return on investment (ROI) is even more difficult. Still, analysts who focus on governance issues detailed some strategies for shaping a business case and winning approval for information governance initiatives.

According to Barclay Blair, president and founder of consulting and professional services firm ViaLumina Group, there are two basic “plots” to the information governance business case story.

The first is the “faster, better, cheaper” angle, Blair said, adding that a well-designed information governance process can help organizations speed up decision making, new product development and other business tasks and can also make business processes more efficient.

And the second one? “Fear, uncertainty and doubt,” he said. That focuses on the risk management side of information governance, which has been “a relatively easy story to tell in the past few years” due to business failures and high-profile court cases, Blair noted. But he offered a note of caution: “Don’t overuse it. Many in the information governance field are guilty of over-relying on the ‘sky is falling’ argument to make their point.”

Both approaches do have merit, Blair said – and mixing them may be the most effective way to win broad support for an information governance strategy. “The key is to tailor the story to the audience and tell it using practical, concrete examples,” he advised. “Business units that drive 80% of the company’s profits may not care as much about risk as the compliance department. And the litigation team may not care as much about cutting information management costs as the CFO.”

State your case for an information governance process in business terms
Many information governance efforts never have a chance to get off the ground because of disconnects between the IT department and business units, said Rob Karel, principal analyst for data management at Forrester Research Inc.

For example, telling business executives that an information governance program is needed because a certain percentage of the documents, records and other unstructured content in an organization’s systems is duplicated “doesn’t speak to them in their language,” Karel said. But he added that they might be very interested if the message focused on the business impact of the duplication, such as excess costs or potential regulatory compliance issues.

“Most people just don’t think the business case through,” said Gartner Inc. analyst Anne Lapkin. She cited an example similar to Karel’s from a client engagement in which the members of an IT team said they had been unable to get backing for a governance and data quality project aimed at making information about the company’s products consistent across different systems, despite “banging on doors for five years.”

The problem, Lapkin found out during the conversation, is that they weren’t tying the lack of a consistent information governance policy to any business problems. After she asked them about that, one member of the team said a new CEO was pushing for more cross-selling of different products to customers – a directive that could be hard to meet without consistent information. That created the opportunity to sell business executives on the governance effort by raising the specter that they wouldn’t get their annual bonuses without it, Lapkin said.

Barry Murphy, an information governance consultant who also is CEO of the online publication eDiscovery Journal, said that efforts to build a business case can suffer from information governance’s inherent lack of sexiness. In addition, executives weighing an information governance process may look at some promised savings as potentially ephemeral. “If I do a business case, it’s typically based on cost savings or risk mitigation, and just because I’m going to save on storage costs, it doesn’t mean I won’t buy more storage,” Murphy said. “So there’s some cynicism from the business.”

Long-term ROI may complicate the information governance business case
Even senior IT executives may ignore a carefully crafted information governance business case showing a projected ROI over a period of several years in favor of initiatives that promise much faster returns, according to Murphy. “I’ve had CIOs say, ‘Don’t even talk about what’s going to benefit the company in three years – I’ll be gone in three years,’” he said.

Murphy added that when CIOs do act on proposals to create an information governance framework, it’s often after their organizations have already felt the pain of governance shortcomings, such as difficulty in meeting electronic discovery requirements during litigation. In such cases, he said, “a CIO can be under intense pressure, and their mandate is literally, ‘Make sure that never happens again.’”

One other possible tactic is to eschew an ROI calculation altogether. Preparing one “can take longer than actually launching an initial effort and proving its value,” said Jill Dyche, a partner and co-founder of Baseline Consulting Group Inc.

Most companies don’t have sophisticated enough processes to measure the potential ROI of data and information governance programs up front, Dyche added. As a result, she said, it often is “better just to design a solid approach, apply it to a business problem and then measure the improvements it engenders.”

Chris Maxcer is a freelance writer.

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