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Tips and advice on making an information governance council work

A dedicated information governance council can work, but analysts warn that without proper leadership and decision-making authority, it can fail to drive true business information governance efforts.

One of the most common practices for establishing and enforcing information governance policies and procedures is to set up a dedicated governance council. But analysts caution that without the proper leadership and decision-making authority, an information governance council on its own is no panacea for governance efforts.

The trouble with many information governance councils, as with any standards-making bodies, is that too often there is no one individual responsible for steering the ship. As a result, while there might be copious amounts of discussion on governance issues among council members, there is no real power in terms of creating policies and ensuring that they’re implemented.

“I’m very cynical about information governance councils – oftentimes, it’s yet another round of busywork that evades the real problem,” said Barclay Blair, president and founder of ViaLumina Group, an information governance consulting and professional services firm. “If there is no effort in a serious way to delegate authority, money and responsibility to a single executive, those councils will be empty vessels.”

There are other potential missteps to be aware of with information governance councils. For example, many companies try to centralize too much around a council and impede the ability of business units to make their own governance decisions, according to Alan Weintraub, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

In another scenario cited by Weintraub, the IT representatives on a council try to exert too much control over the information governance process, which can shut out members from the business side from providing input or actively participating in the governance efforts. Finally, Weintraub has seen governance boards set out with an aggressive agenda but get sidetracked over time. “Oftentimes, these things will start off like gangbusters, but then if they don’t see the value, members will lose interest, they’ll stop meeting and eventually lose control over what’s going on,” he said.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for information governance councils or benefits to be gained if they’re orchestrated with an eye toward avoiding some of those issues. The first order of business, analysts said, should be finding an executive sponsor to lead a council – ideally someone who is a key member of a company’s senior leadership team. Among the key duties that the executive sponsor should oversee: Obtaining the budget needed to fund an information governance program; acting as a liaison between the council, business units and top management; and serving as the critical cog in communicating the decisions made by the council to the enterprise as a whole.

All in on an information governance council
In addition, companies should ensure that an information governance council has cross-functional representation across all business units and departments, and not just appoint members from a single area typically associated with information governance management – IT or the legal department, for example. Broad representation and participation is critical to ensuring that an information governance program can deliver business value and result in policies and procedures that accurately reflect how unstructured data is used and managed on an enterprise scale, the analysts said.

Also, Weintraub noted that while smaller companies might have a single information governance council, larger entities might be well served by having several boards handling different levels of governance – for example, an umbrella council that tackles strategic issues and an operational board responsible for managing day-to-day governance procedures.

To ensure that information governance boards don’t fall into the trap of being all talk and no action, organizations also have to make councils and their members accountable so they take the task seriously. That means giving people the time to focus on information governance by factoring their roles on a council into their job descriptions as well as their performance measurements.

Developing performance metrics tied to an information governance strategy is critical to moving council members beyond lip service to active participation, said Ted Friedman, an information management analyst at Gartner Inc. “These roles have to have some accountability associated with them,” he said, adding that council members can be measured “on things like data quality or degrees of completeness.”

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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