IG Snapshots: What We Learned by Looking at Five Information Governance Programs

A Vision for Practical Governance of Unstructured Information

The Information Governance Initiative and its Supporters like OpenText (winner of our Supporter of the Year Award in 2015) are always looking for new ways to drive information governance (IG) forward. The IG community has told us that one of the most valuable things we can do for them is simply to share stories about how IG is getting done. This is exactly what we are trying to achieve with a new series of IG Snapshots based on our extensive benchmarking work. IG Snapshots tell a quick, real-world IG story and highlight the IT and management insights illuminated by the story. We see plenty of evidence that we are on the threshold of rapid change around IG. We see it in the stories that practitioners in our community tell us. We see it in research data showing first movers and fast followers increasing investment in IG, deepening IG maturity, and assigning senior managers to the IG portfolio.

We share a two-part vision with OpenText about how we can solve the problem of governing unstructured information.

  1. A significant percentage of all of your unstructured information is clearly the byproduct of a structured business process. As such, the governance of that information should be built into that business process in a “silent” way that requires little human intervention beyond the initial design. We think this should be a core function of ECM – bolting on and underpinning line of business applications as diverse as ERP and construction management. The beauty of this approach is that it does not require data “classification” (automated or not) in the traditional sense, because the purpose, meaning, and nature of the information is deduced from the business process that generates it. Sophisticated ECM systems are able to connect to and support IG for these line of business systems.
  2. A significant percentage of your unstructured information is not the byproduct of a structured business process and thus, cannot be governed this way. Our 25-year experiment to manage unstructured information using concepts that worked well for paper (e.g., centralized capture and control, human records clerks for classification) has failed. All unstructured information does not require the same level of governance. In fact, a clear-eyed cost/benefit analysis at most organizations would reveal that the cost of attempting to do so (and the loss of employee productivity, creativity, and collaboration that usually follows) does not justify even the theoretical, much less actual, benefit.

Instead, we recommend that organizations adopt this approach:

  1. Identify as many opportunities as possible to govern information as part of the business process.
  2. Identify use cases where automated or machine-assisted human classification makes sense as a tool for moving content into a managed state and maintaining it there.
  3. Identify information that requires a level of document-by-document, content-based classification and governance that can only be practically accomplished by humans, and invest in the best processes for doing this.
  4. Manage the rest using broad rules targeting systems, roles, business functions, work groups, geographic areas, and other factors that reveal business function and thus are instructive regarding the governance rules that must apply.

Focus on progress and pragmatism. Perfection is not the goal.

This approach enables us to take care of the big risks, deliver business value, and move on from our fundamentally unworkable reliance upon human governance and classification for unstructured information. At the IGI, we have articulated this vision in multiple ways through our research, case studies, events, and other work and will continue to do so. We are grateful to have support for these efforts from a forward-looking and pragmatic organization like OpenText.

Your story is incredibly valuable to the community, and we would love to help you tell it. As you will see in our Snapshots, we make every effort to protect the confidentiality and anonymity of the practitioners and organizations we profile, while trying to provide as many specifics as we can. Please contact us so we can help you tell your IG story.

In the meantime, enjoy the IG Snapshots! Download your copy of IG Snapshots: What We Learned by Looking at Five Organizations’ Information Governance Programs.