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Avoiding the common pitfalls of information governance management

Information governance management success begins with a program owner with the authority and enterprise support to focus an initiative and keep business stakeholders engaged with strategy and tactics.

Given the organizational complexities and internal process changes typically associated with enterprisewide information governance initiatives involving emails, corporate documents and other types of unstructured data, it’s often easier to derail projects  than it is to chart a course to success.

Industry analysts and consultants nearly unanimously agree that the biggest impediment to long-term information governance success is the lack of a rightful program “owner” – one with enough authority and broad enterprise support to focus a governance initiative and keep business stakeholders engaged.

It’s often assumed that the IT department should be handed responsibility for information governance management because it’s the keeper of the systems that house the data. But while some chief information officers are indeed good candidates for the program owner role, analysts said it’s more commonplace that information governance leadership falls into the hands of IT practitioners, who typically don’t have the enterprise clout or strategic vision to elevate a governance program beyond tactical data-housekeeping policies and procedures.

“There is one mistake that everyone makes, and it’s so big that it categorically doesn’t allow people to succeed with information governance – that is, they do not delegate responsibility for this problem at a senior-enough level,” said Barclay Blair, president and founder of ViaLumina Group, a consulting and professional services firm that specializes in information governance.

Information governance programs “that have been built through a grass-roots effort and have lip service paid to them by senior management aren’t really addressing the problem in the right way,” Blair added. “Because when it comes time for hard issues that really impact what employees do on a day-to-day basis, [lower-level employees] back off and don’t actually make the changes.”

Beyond not making information governance management a high-profile corporate priority, there are a variety of other errors that can trip up companies. Here is a look at some of the most common pitfalls, as identified by Blair and other analysts:

Scoping the program too widely. Taking an overzealous view of information governance as it pertains to every bit of data across an entire organization can be dangerous to keeping a program on track. As part of scoping a project, organizations need to examine the business case for information governance and make a concerted effort to tie the identified pain points and goals directly to the highest-priority content in their systems. “It turns out we have tons of data, but not all of it holds the same value or level of risk to the enterprise,” said Ted Friedman, an information management analyst at Gartner Inc. An information governance best practice, Friedman said, is to avoid trying to tackle everything at once and instead focus on the key parts of the unstructured data landscape.

Treating governance as a cultural misfit. Not every organization places a value on information as an enterprise asset, and for those companies that don’t, creating an information governance framework and trying to enforce governance policies may be a lost cause, according to the analysts. But, they warned, it isn’t easy to change a corporate culture that results in business units hoarding their own information in silos into one that embraces information sharing and governance as a collective cause. “Socialization and getting agreement across areas – that might just be the hardest part of all,” Friedman said. He noted that in some companies, the term governance itself denotes lockdown and control, serving as a turn-off for business users. To avoid that kind of pushback and help facilitate a shift in thinking, Friedman recommends the use of broader terms, such as information management and information value creation, in trying to sell organizations on the merits of an information governance strategy. He also suggests publicizing early wins to help deliver the message and prove out a governance program’s benefits.

Not making people accountable. You can establish all the right rules and procedures for information governance, but none of it matters if you don’t hold employees accountable when they fail to adhere to the corporate standards. Companies need to establish and enforce consequences if someone neglects to conform to records retention policies, for example, or if business users insist on keeping data local and aren’t following agreed-upon procedures around email inbox limits or data storage. But in doing so, information governance managers do need to have an understanding of how workers use information as part of their jobs. “A big mistake is not caring how people consume information either by being too lax or too restrictive,” said Barry Murphy, an information governance consultant and co-founder of the online publication eDiscovery Journal.

Thinking technology is a panacea. This last one is almost as big a hurdle to successful information governance management as not having the right leadership, according to analysts. They said the mistake here is less about picking the wrong technology and more about thinking that technology alone will solve the governance problem without requiring an organization to think through the required processes. “I have clients with millions of dollars of software licenses sitting on the shelf because they mistook the starting line for the finish line,” Blair said. “They thought buying the enterprise content management system or whatever was the task, but the reality is they expended all that energy and political capital and budget, and now the heavy lifting really begins.”

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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