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Case for information governance strategy goes beyond mitigating risks

Building an information governance strategy business case goes beyond mitigating risk to showing how it fosters trust and leads to better decisions.

Analysts say the business case for information governance can be hard to pin down, often making it a tough sell -- that is, unless an organization's interest in a governance program comes about as a way to mitigate risks and costs related to legal actions or regulatory compliance issues.

But legal and compliance risks are hardly the only reasons to push forward with plans to develop an information governance strategy, even though they might prove to be the most visible and immediate justifications for securing funding.

For example, better governance of business records or documents identified as evidence in a court case can save hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in potential legal-related fees, depending on a company's size. At the same time, however, there's an equally compelling case to be made that developing an information governance strategy should really be about maintaining and leveraging information as a core business asset, thereby enabling better decision making.

"While it's important to mitigate risk and put information under a management structure that protects it, it's even more important that information is trustworthy and reliable," said Alan Weintraub, an enterprise information management analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "You need to know that when you're using it, you're using the right piece of information to make the right decision."

In fact, governance often appears on the radar at organizations when they discover low levels of trust in their own information. Such a discovery usually serves as the driving force for creating an information governance plan for the enterprise as a whole, according to Weintraub.

"The suggestion typically comes from the information usage side of the house -- the analytics organization or the knowledge management team -- which is putting together some kind of [application] and very quickly issues around information reliability become unearthed," Weintraub said. He cited the real-life example of a hospitality organization that took three days to pull together a report, but up to three weeks to validate the data before disseminating it. "It's bad when it takes you three times as long to validate the data as it did to create the report," he said.

To win support, find the business value

The first order of business in crafting the business case for an information governance strategy is figuring out what your company is trying to achieve with the program and then working backward to put processes and policies in place to drive the outcome. It's imperative, as with any enterprise initiative, that the project have a direct link to some sort of measurable business value; otherwise, Weintraub and other analysts warn, it's hard to convince management as well as rank-and-file employees to get on board.

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Sometimes, the case for information governance can be driven by a major event -- a corporate merger or a system migration, for example.

"The most successful business cases for information governance have some sort of deadline or a fire that's burning," said Barclay Blair, president and founder of ViaLumina Group, a New York-based information governance consultancy. Blair explained that in such cases, it's typically an external driver like litigation or the approaching end of life for a major business system. "A major IT system event or migration is an impetus for success with this because people start asking information governance-related questions," he said.

But less obvious business cases are also possible, Blair added. Another common justification for information governance, he said, involves "defensible deletion -- the idea that if you have governance, it gives you the ability to get rid of outdated and old information without getting in trouble with the law."

Less info means less storage, more productivity

Throwing out non-essential information also paves the way for reducing storage and maintenance costs -- another practical business case for establishing an information governance strategy. Blair said that not only is less money spent on buying storage hardware and keeping it running, but business users can find critical information faster because there is less of it to look through. That, in turn, improves employee productivity.

Even so, Blair cautioned, it's often difficult to champion a business case built on improved productivity. "That falls into the category of soft costs, and the degree to which those costs are accepted and understood depends -- in large part -- on company culture," he said.

Jill Dyché, a business intelligence and data management consultant who now is vice president of thought leadership at analytics software vendor SAS Institute Inc. in Cary, N.C., suggests starting small when building a business case for creating an information governance strategy for an organization. Her advice: Begin with targeted projects that address critical pain points and enable you to showcase results in a positive fashion.

"Pinpoint a problem area or a program benefit and go after that as a proving ground and then expand it to be enterprisewide," Dyché said. "You're more likely to get executive buy-in by convincing execs you have a problem with product data in the supply chain rather than talking in general terms about why your data is bad."

Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer who has been covering the intersection of technology and business for 25-plus years for a variety of trade and business publications and websites.

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