Measuring success of an information governance program not so simple

The ongoing management of information governance programs demands measuring the initiative for success. While it can be a challenge, it is possible to prove value and guide program effectiveness.

Effective information governance programs can help organizations maintain control of both their structured data and the growing volumes of documents and other unstructured data being stored electronically. But for many information governance program managers, proving the value of governance initiatives can be a complicated matter, particularly if corporate executives want to see tangible results from an enterprise’s investment in governance processes before offering support or renewing funding.

“In order for information governance to have teeth, we need to illustrate the ongoing value it drives,” said Jill Dyche, co-founder of Baseline Consulting Group Inc. in Sherman Oaks, Calif. “Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.” It’s important to try, though, in order to show executives that promises made to them about the benefits of information governance are being kept, she added.

“There is currently a big debate in the [governance] community about how to measure or justify information governance,” said Barclay T. Blair, president and founder of ViaLumina Group Ltd., a New York-based consulting firm that focuses on information governance. “Some argue that traditional measurements like return on investment [ROI] are too narrow to capture the true value. Others argue that unless the value of information governance can be measured using these well-established techniques, it will never fly.”

Blair added that he is “somewhere in the middle.” Using ROI or total cost of ownership (TCO) calculations can provide some hard evidence of business benefits, but it tends to do a poor job of measuring the costs associated with governance risks and the value of avoiding them, he said.

Maintaining executive buy-in for an information governance program is critical, so understanding the motivations of executive sponsors and other key members of your management team is a good place to begin, Blair said. “Who is asking you to calculate the success of your information governance efforts? What is important to them? What are their favorite topics or projects? What has worked in the past? You need to be able to answer these questions before you even get started,” he recommended.

Telling stories about information governance benefits
Next, focus on storytelling, Blair advised. “The single most effective technique that I have used to measure and communicate the value of information governance is through personal case studies,” he said. Choose a small number of people in your organization and profile their work environment before and after the launch of an information governance program, Blair said. Then the improvements in information access and consistency that they’re hopefully seeing can be extrapolated to other people in similar roles.

According to Rob Karel, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., another handy technique for measuring the success of an information governance framework is choosing a single process to measure. For example, he cited the case of a financial services firm that used its governance program to more consistently capture accurate and validated customer email addresses. That enabled the company to save millions of dollars in postage and marketing-collateral costs by replacing direct-mail marketing programs with email campaigns, Karel said.

Indeed, there’s a tendency on the part of some program managers to try to measure the value of every element of an information governance program. But that means they might quantify, say, 25 tangential benefits in an effort to create an eye-popping value proposition, said Barry Murphy, co-founder and principal analyst at eDiscoveryJournal LLC, an online publication and consulting firm based in Austin, Texas.

Murphy’s advice: Fight the urge to measure everything -- bigger is usually not better in this case. “The companies that find success,” he said, “are looking at their projects in focused, yet granular, ways.”

Dyche warned that efforts to demonstrate the success of information governance programs can go off track at the start, when organizations try to create baseline metrics. “Measuring the ‘current state’ of your business is often the hardest part of information governance,” she said. “It’s often the reason that the entire program falters.” Executives might want to see hard numbers to justify governance initiatives -- but Dyche said she has told several clients that by the time they fully understand the costs of things such as multiple data integration and cleansing efforts and having different versions of the same document in their systems, “we could have come up with governance processes that would streamline or eliminate those processes.”

Start with a small, controlled project based on an acknowledged business problem that information problems are enabling, Dyche suggested. “Build some formal processes and rules around accessing, cleansing, integrating and deploying that data,” she said, adding that when demonstrable results and improvements have been repeated a few times, sound information governance practices should become systemic.

Chris Maxcer is a freelance writer.

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