Strategic Information Management: Understanding a New Reality

Article excerpt

"We sit on the edge of a cliff, where radical new technology is rising up to us with a force so powerful that it will transform our landscape. The rules of commerce are shifting rapidly, with explosive new business models taking shape by the minute. Almost every day we are astounded by the latest innovation in communications, computers, and biotech. Technology is behind key transitions in the very foundations of our society."

James Canton, Futurist

Change is a constant within our contemporary environment, and the forces for change are many. The rapid development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has been the most prominent among the many agents for change that are forcing a re-evaluation of the role of the records and information management (RIM) professional.

Futurist James Canton's analysis suggests what some have called the "new reality." It is into this new reality that we can place the emergent strategic information management (SIM) professional.

Characteristics of this new world of corporate information management include competitive advantage and competitive intelligence, intellectual property, litigation, information economics, the information ecology, enterprise portals, security and privacy, globalization, groupware, and tacit knowledge. While ICTs may have encouraged the development of SIM, they have also had many expected and unexpected outcomes in the socio-technical systems we know as organizations. Additionally, technology cannot be considered as acting alone. It is a product of society; it is also part of a larger environment in which other forces are at work.

Organizations today face more competition than was the case even a decade ago. A successful business relies on the right combination of organizational resources working together in a dedicated effort to penetrate and achieve leadership in the marketplace, and information is such a resource. The identification and use of information play a large role in an organization's achievement of competitive advantage. Organizations most efficient in gathering, processing, and distributing information -- as well as using it to make better business decisions -- will enjoy an edge in achieving success.

Because of the development of ICTs, records and information managers have had to become more technologically literate. But this is the tip of the iceberg. As intellectual capital expert and Fortune columnist Thomas Stewart advises, they also need to review their overall potential contribution to the success of the organizations in which they are located -- in addition to protecting social and intellectual capital. ICT development has meant that RIM professionals are now free of many tedious physical tasks and can more fully explore the more intellectual and value-added side of their profession.

Where records and information managers have traditionally concentrated on the evidential qualities of records, they are now realizing a greater interest in the informational content of records that can be used for decision making and action. The framework in which such records are created also contributes information that goes beyond what might be used in a court of law or audit. There is no doubt that the newly focused work of RIM professionals has, in many ways, become more central to the core business of organizations as they seek to preserve intellectual property and gain competitive advantage in an increasingly volatile environment.

The downside of this phenomenon is that many records managers have found themselves unprepared to accommodate this new bearing. Records and information managers and their supervisors face many problems in redefining their work, their position, and their expanded responsibilities. The older model of managing static information resources is being driven out by that of information in motion. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish a "record" among "documents" in their multitude of forms. …