In our earlier blog we talked about the confusion between Information Management and Information Governance, and suggested there are two ways in which organizations can approach the task of implementing Information Governance.
In this blog we explore the first of these, which is the traditional ‘top‑down’ approach.
Taking a holistic view
The traditional view of Information Governance starts by identifying and understanding the value of data to an organization. It then moves on to determine the individual Information Management processes, strategies and metrics that are needed to manage this data appropriately according to its value as a business asset.
Each organization will have a large number of data sources that it needs to identify and then understand. Some of these will be held as structured data and will therefore already be managed to some degree, but there will also be large areas of unstructured data. For the majority of organizations, email represents the most significant volume of unstructured data that they will need to manage.
Who’s involved in this
Many stakeholders across a business will have an active interest in Information Governance to a greater or lesser degree, and will be involved in the process of identifying and understanding data. We can identify four specific groups who are particularly key to the overall process:
Large organizations may have a specific role such as a Compliance Officer or a Business Intelligence Manager who is responsible for ensuring that the organization complies with statutory and regulatory requirements. Even they don’t have a dedicated role, most businesses will have individuals who are responsible for the various aspects of compliance on a day‑to‑day basis. Implementing Information Management effectively will of course have a significant positive impact on their work.
All information held by an organization is potentially responsive to legal queries. Effective information management will ensure that data is only retained when it is required for a specific business purpose, and that data is not retained excessively or beyond its useful life. This will have a direct positive benefit on the cost of responding to discovery requests, particularly as email now comprises 90% of more of all data involved in most requests.
Many operational departments seek to mine the data they retain for valuable insights and trends. Business Intelligence applications can only deliver valid and meaningful results if the underlying data has business value to begin with, so these departments will have a keen interest in ensuring that only useful data is retained. Anything that is redundant, obsolete or just irrelevant should be deleted so that it does not obscure meaningful results.
The IT organization has a stake in information governance simply because it will have to implement the various Information Management processes, strategies and metrics that are required to manage data according to its business value.
Relying on understanding and consensus
With a top-down Information Governance approach, the key stakeholders will need to understand how each of them attaches value to their information, as well as understanding the life cycle of that information. Without understanding both the value and the lifetime, it is easy to end up with a “save everything” strategy that achieves nothing.
By building consensus and understanding, stakeholders will appreciate how their own specific needs impact each of the other groups and influence the overall Information Governance strategy. Most companies following a top-down approach will assemble a team from each of the key stakeholders. They may bring in an outside consultant who can provide guidance as to specific regulatory and legal requirements, and advise on best practices.
A top-down approach to Information Governance will be holistic by nature and will cover the end‑to‑end lifecycle of data across the whole business. The group of stakeholders involved are able to assess specific local issues in the wider context of the whole organization, and can ensure that the resultant strategy is balanced and consistent.
By looking at all the various business scenarios that drive Information Governance, top-down approaches are better able to understand how the data managed in one process flows through other processes, and how they influence each other. This is particularly important with unstructured data such as email which can be a key part of many distinct business operations.
A top-down approach also is the most cost‑effective way to utilize external consultants, who may be necessary to provide regulatory and best practices expertise which the group of stakeholders lack.
Organizations trying to initiate a top-down governance strategy may encounter obstacles with organizing and managing an exercise of this size and scope. The complexity of the task may be such that that coming up with a single overarching governance strategy is unrealistic.
It may be that the wrong team members get involved and therefore the solutions proposed will not be suitable for day-to-day operations. Existing operational procedures and workflows will be affected by information governance initiatives, and unless the team understands the impact of their proposals on day-to-day operations, they may create new problems.
The challenge for mid-market businesses is that they often rely on their smaller size and market focus to compete with larger organizations. They simply don’t have the resources available to organize a top-down governance initiative, and the cost of bringing in an outside consultant to do this for them is prohibitive.
Turning initiatives into reality
Regardless of whether a top-down approach delivers a complete Information Governance strategy, or becomes a long-term governance initiative as the team works through all the various challenges, the subsequent implementation of this will require a number of specific IT projects.
Information Governance establishes the framework and the outcomes that are required, but it does not specify the individual Information Management processes, strategies and metrics that need to be put in place to achieve this. It is this second aspect, the practical challenges of implementing Information Management across the business, which leads many organizations to take a different approach.
The bottom-up strategy offers a more pragmatic approach to governance and may align more closely with existing management practices and available resources. In our next blog we will look at this alternative approach in more detail.