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Why information governance strategy equals information access

Information governance strategy needs to facilitate proper collection of information, accommodate human error and legacy systems, and use emerging analytics tools.

With the exponential growth of corporate data -- and its potential for competitive advantage and harm -- an information governance strategy is a must for every organization.

Information governance (IG) is the discipline of managing corporate information. It strives to make information accessible while streamlining information management, reducing storage costs and ensuring compliance. IG extends far beyond records management, whose primary function is to help organizations document their RM process, from data collection to destruction, and to help them remain compliant.

Because it is far more expansive, information governance strategy is also more difficult, to say the least. The sheer volume of information is a key factor, as is the problem of comprehensive categorization of content to ensure its findability later on. That's why tools to enable accessibility are so important. As a cornerstone, content management tools include content architecture, which establishes how content should be managed and published; metadata, or information that describes the data contained in a particular information asset; and taxonomy, which -- ideally -- provides a distinct, logical and intuitive system of classification "buckets," into which information can be slotted for ease of retrieval and analysis.

Because information governance provides an opportunity in today's modern business landscape, many technology providers -- from document management to e-discovery vendors -- want to get in on the action. But software alone cannot create successful IG. Technology enables the strategy to make content more accessible and actionable.

More than the sum of its parts

A key component of an information governance strategy is information collection, which is the domain of records management. But for RM to do its job, the appropriate information must be captured. This requires making it easy for people to do so.

A primary goal of IG is to streamline and control the flow of information from its inception to its expiration.

Unfortunately, from tech firms to nonprofits to everything in between, almost all organizations have the same problem: They don't know where all their information is located. This issue stems not from people failing to realize that information needs to be saved and protected but rather from systems that are either insufficient or too difficult to use.

As an example, during work with a financial institution, my consultancy discovered that the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) was storing agreements in a multitude of places and in a haphazard way. The causes were manifold:

  • Network share drives were in use but were reaching their limits and were inadequate for emails.
  • Email inboxes were in use but were continuously hitting their size limits, and subsequently blocking incoming emails.
  • PST files were used to solve the inbox problem, but finding places to store the files was difficult. Finding anything once a file owner left the company was simply impossible.
  • SharePoint was offered as solution, but inadequate training and configuration specific to the OGC's business needs made that an unwieldy option.

This was an organization in pain. Successful RM (and subsequently, IG) was simply impossible, because employees could not locate information that had not passed through their email. A first step for this company was to address these issues and make capturing information easy. Once relevant content was made part of the capture process, organizing it became easier.

Analytics to find it all

In information governance, as in virtually all aspects of business, it's a mistake to ignore either the human factor or legacy systems. Both exert tremendous influence on success. Even if the perfect taxonomy, or site architecture, and content model is created for all new content, even if the training is perfect, even if automated processes categorize half of the information without anyone having to lift a finger, there will be gaps.

  • People make mistakes. "To err is human," may be cliché but it is a reality that has to be acknowledged.
  • People are in a hurry. "I'll deal with that after lunch," and, "I need to meet this deadline and can finalize things later," are realities that technology cannot change.
  • Content exists from before every system deployment. Much of that content is important and needs to be brought under the same set of IG controls under which new content resides.
  • Content may be in the system but it is often not categorized or it is categorized incorrectly. Bulk migration of old content leads to the same problem on a larger scale.

Content analytics helps to overcome these issues. It provides visibility into content amount, type, and use and finds logical groupings. These insights then enable the IG manager, or business owner, to identify what the content has in common. The engine can then categorize new content that fits the same pattern.

A few months after rolling out a new system, much of the content will be categorized correctly, and the system can identify anomalies and point them out to staff for clarification. It can learn from those anomalies and become better at categorizing content over time. Older content can be incorporated and categorized with 90% to 95% accuracy, a rate which is much better than when bored interns do the work.

A picture tells a thousand words

Applying business intelligence (BI) to content is an exciting area in an information governance strategy. Historically, BI worked to extract insights from only highly structured information, such as that found in the rows and columns of a spreadsheet. Today, more tools are recognizing that there is structure in what is commonly called unstructured content -- such as text-based emails, office and Web documents, and voice, image and video files. Systems are becoming more sophisticated with natural language queries in recognizing the structure that can be found in such content, and helping businesses extract insight from that.

This article, for example, has headers, sections, paragraphs and sentences. Those sentences are structured on standard grammatical rules, thanks to the editor's efforts. These are constructs that we can all identify whether you read it on this website or in the raw format of the draft. Business content is also governed by structure.

When combined with metadata created by staff and analytics engines, this information can be used to track what is happening within an organization. The potential competitive advantage of such insight is vast, but here are just a few illustrations.

  • An insurance company can find trends in claims, potentially finding root causes, and change its plans accordingly.
  • Financial firms can track incoming requests for information, correlate them to items in the news and better anticipate market fluctuations.
  • Consultancies can identify the number of iterations that deliverables take and the tone of the communications surrounding them. They can use that to identify trouble projects early enough to get them back on track.
  • Legal departments can determine that they are seeing a shift in contract changes, (e.g., liability limitations) and adjust their contracts, allowing for more deals to close.

For known metrics, dashboards can be created to measure the type and tone of content being captured. When critical points are hit, behaviors can be evaluated to improve or take advantage of a developing situation. Past trends can be analyzed and used to track the reoccurrence of those trends.

The big picture

A primary goal of an information governance strategy is to streamline and control the flow of information in an organization from its inception to its expiration, a goal that best practices and technology can support. There are many older technologies like records management, which can facilitate an organization's IG efforts. When combined with newer technologies such as analytics and BI -- and a great overarching information governance strategy -- the value promise of IG can be fully realized.

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