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Attracting corporate attention to your information management/governance programs can be a hard road to travel, unless you’re directly contributing to the company’s revenue or cutting its costs. So then, how can we prove the inherent value of our information assets and the work we do to the organization as a whole? Well, for one thing, we might want to stop calling it information governance.

As an industry, we struggle to define what exactly information governance entails and even who’s in charge—records management, compliance, legal, information technology, etc. This isn’t surprising given that many of our information governance programs are in their infancy, with many organizations launching new, dedicated divisions to this effort. I propose, instead, that we ask what it is that motives the business. Do you understand the operations of the business? If you understand that, then you know how to sell your information governance program. Really, when I talk to information processionals about the “it” factor that will grab executive attention to your program, a debate emerges between compliance and efficiency.

Compliance is flashy and attention-grabbing
A majority of the executives we serve here at DOCUMENT Strategy come from heavily regulated industries, and so, it’s easy to understand why this is such a powerful “hook.” Many feel they are under siege in the regulatory arena, from commonly cited ones like Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS), Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), ISO 27K, Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) 239, to open government disclosure laws, to the myriad of other industry-specific standards and regulations.

I propose, instead, that we ask what it is that motives the business. Do you understand the operations of the business?

With increasing and overlapping regulatory requirements and the demand for transparency in governance, regulators are now calling for more holistic solutions to manage compliance and risk. This has caught the attention of the chief executive officer (CEO). Failure to meet these expectations or in a timely manner can cost significant amounts of money in both penalties and attorney fees to the company. The potential loss of $10,000 a day to a million dollars a day is crystal clear. The question is now, “How do we mitigate these risks?” It’s not a far stretch to see why so many information governance programs begin under this principle.

Efficiency is seductive, depending on how you frame it
While compliance is often viewed as the sure bet and for those that want to play it conservatively, there is another school of thought that believes information governance programs should be approached from the business operations perspective. Organizations of all sizes expend a lot of energy on maximizing operational efficiency, since this is a key competitive differentiator. This makes sense since efficiency, by its very nature, measures the process of achieving objectives with the least amount of resources used. Steeped in the traditions of design, engineering, quality management, production management and management systems, the application of efficiency should be considered for the information assets of the organization as well. If you think about the time used by your knowledge workers on a daily basis for access, collaboration, search and retrieval for information, then you know why this approach is touted by so many strategy consultants and industry pundits alike. The mention of a possible eight to 15% efficiency savings is powerfully seductive.

Yet, just because you achieve efficiency doesn’t mean that it correlates to actual cost savings. To realize actual cost savings, something has to drive down costs (i.e., redeployment of headcount, reduction in expenditures, etc.) to impact the bottom line. Without concrete, measurable returns on efficiency gains, this can be challenging to prove. On the other hand, a laser focus on cost savings alone can derail the concept of efficiency. For example, in the public sector, the dollar is already allocated and, therefore, is more about the service being provided to the public. Efficiency gains of 10,000 to 15,000 man hours reallocated to the service of the agency takes on new meaning and significance. Really, it boils down to asking what your business goals are: Is it to provide a service to the public faster and better? To dig more holes in the ground for utility lines? To invest in more intelligent market research? The time you can give business users back to dedicate in achieving these objectives is what your executive team should care about.

Buy-in: The people versus the top
No matter what camp you sit in, the reality is that top-level buy-in is possible and is occurring more than we think. In fact, I know of an executive hired to spearhead an organization’s information governance program who was vetted by its C-suite panel. This speaks volumes to the priority and emphasis that this leadership team places on the governance of its information assets.

Yes, we understand this might be an outlier, but it underscores the reality of change or resistance to it. The often-repeated saying of, “Culture trumps strategy,” is not an exaggeration, and we understand that the CEO must drive this change. However, this quote by a company leader gets straight to the heart of the matter, “Our biggest advantage over our competitors is our people and our assets.” Shouldn’t we trust that we’ve hired the best and the brightest? This body of people is on the front lines and, many times, can see change as it is forming in the fields. Should we not trust that?

Organizations as a whole can approach innovation in a laborious fashion. Perhaps, in certain parts of the organization, it’s just not possible. This is why so many analysts witness division or departmental pilot programs to be so successful. The culture needed for change can be born here and nurtured. I know of one company that did just that—an incubator of sorts for such innovation—but they had to be patient. This style of change still requires top leadership to understand and drive it forward, and some companies are just not ready. However, I call CEOs to examine your information assets and to begin incubating innovation—before your competitors do.

This article borrowed discussions from the DOCUMENT Strategy Media Information Management/Governance Focus Group. We’d like to thank these professionals for their thought leadership, time and efforts in the advancement of information management and governance. Any views or opinions presented are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Information Management/Governance Focus Group or their employers. Information therein is not representative of any one company, industry or product, and any similarities are strictly coincidental.

Information Management/Governance Focus Group Members are:

Tom Serven
Vice President, Enterprise Data Governance and Management
State Street

James Kennedy, CRM, IGP
Manager, Records & Information Management
Tallgrass Energy

Jason Howell
Manager, Information Governance
Washington State Department of Ecology

Courtney Stone
Manager, Records and Retention
AMOCO Federal Credit Union

Mark E. Fackler
Business Systems Coordinator, Midstream
Phillips 66

If you are interested in joining the DOCUMENT Strategy Media Information Management/Governance Focus Group, please email

Allison Lloyd serves as the editor of DOCUMENT Strategy Media. She delivers thought leadership on strategic and plan-based solutions for managing the entire document, communication and information process.

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