Magazine article Information Management

Four Steps for Conquering Information Chaos

Magazine article Information Management

Four Steps for Conquering Information Chaos

Article excerpt

Circa 1984: FedEx had just introduced a new service called ZapMail. For the low cost of only $35 per 10 pages, it would fax your document from FedEx depot to depot, then print, package, and dispatch the document to your office via courier. Those were the days of carbon paper, Thermo-Fax, and plain-paper copiers.

They were also the days when the only limitations to uncontrolled creation and retention of information were the technologies themselves. ZapMail was innovative and a boon to individuals who could not afford a fax machine, but it was doomed to fail by the coming juggernaut of technology development.

Circa 2013: Imagine today the U.S. Postal Service delivering paper mail at the same rate at which e-marl, tweets, and texts are received. Would the overload fill a basement, a garage, that extra bedroom? Would there be a need to buy a storage shed for the back yard?

Of course not; recipients would instead find a way to dispose of most of it quickly. Yet, somehow in the work environment, the information technology (IT) department is expected to allow users to fill all available electronic rooms not only with e-mail, but also with other obsolete, duplicative, and trivial data.

Organizations have arrived at this place honestly. Policy, training, and management did not keep pace with technology and peoples' ability to create information. Users were turned loose with cool new tools and little to no direction or forethought as to how they should be used or the problems they might create. Indeed, the impact and speed of advancement of computer technology were truly "unknown unknowns," opening the floodgates to random, prolific, and unfettered creation of information.

Accountability After the Fact

Imposing order and accountability after the fact may seem a little like closing the barn door after the horses are out. Yet it is imperative that organizations catch and corral the horses and begin to impose order in the stable. The greatest challenge may not be the volume of information or the capabilities of technology, but introducing the concept that the responsibility to fix the situation is each person's job.

Accountability must be at the heart of any organizational initiative to control and improve information governance. Without it, good intentions fall short. Further, accountability must include everyone from staff to management to stakeholders within the organization. Contrary to popular belief, information governance is not the sole responsibility of the IT function.

Move Left, Young Man

With homage to Horace Greely, organizations must seek their information governance destiny by expanding their understanding of and developing the left-most (first) element of the well-known Electronic Discovery Reference Model: information management (See Figure 1 on page 36). They do this by deconstructing and then reconstructing the situation through an ordered process of assessment, analysis, action, and audit.

1. Assessment

Assessment most often starts with a recognized problem or pain point. Examples might include a growing e-mail archive or a costly e-discovery project. The key here is not only to acknowledge the pain, but also to identify the root cause(s), much like a medical diagnosis. Typically, there is not just one symptom. A good assessment, therefore, should go beyond presenting the problem to examine and measure multiple facets of the "as is" state.

Facets might include such matters as the organization's culture; governance, risk, and compliance environment; technical structures and capabilities; workers' skills assessment; organizational structures; and data demographics. This phase might also include a review and comparison of benchmark standards, such as the Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles[R] or ISACA's COBIT 5 (a business framework for enterprise IT governance and management).

Analysis of the information gained during this fact gathering will likely point to one or more root causes of the problem. …

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