Feeling sick and tired. Frustrated young man keeping eyes closed while sitting at his working place in officeMost enterprise information governance initiatives are event-driven: an expensive lawsuit, a system migration, a board or regulatory inquiry, a corporate move, and so on. Though there’s nothing wrong with being opportunistic in making IG progress, it can sometimes be too little, too late when a cybersecurity breach or some catastrophic event shines the light on decades of inattention.  How then do we become more proactive in improving how we manage information—arguably any company’s most valuable asset?

Inertia is a powerful thing. It keeps us from exercising regularly, from cleaning the garage, and myriad other “honey do’s.”  Not to mention the personal distractions of football, basketball, kids’ soccer, social media, Internet surfing, and just plain hanging out.  When we translate this combination of inertia and distraction to the workplace, however, our “home” selves get in the way of our “business” selves and organizational best interest.  It’s just too easy to put off examination of what is an increasingly consequential business need: ensuring compliance, managing risk, and extracting value from our information.  Effort is required.

Not my company

So, you say, my company doesn’t have much litigation (good for you…so far). My email servers aren’t full yet (they will be), and storage is cheap (it isn’t).  Maybe you are OK with assuming the calculated risk inherent in having obsolete and unknown content in your systems.  Or maybe you simply don’t have the time or focus to devote to unraveling the mess that comes from decades of unrestricted, unmanaged, unsupervised use of office productivity tools.  Why make the effort to find a reason to change if one does not present itself?

Because technology is outpacing our ability to control information by using 1990’s thinking.

Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.

– Christopher Parker

Employee expectations regarding technology availability and use, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, mobile devices, and cybersecurity concerns all conspire to drive increasingly rapid and inevitable technological change in your organization. Eventually, a system WILL require upgrade, you WILL decide to move to the Cloud, your email WILL become unmanageable, employees WILL use unsanctioned devices or storage, you WILL need to decommission an application, or you WILL move to a new technology platform.  You will someday be forced finally to confront the backlog of unnecessary and unmanaged content, a confrontation that often ends in paralysis as you fight battles on two fronts: what to do with the legacy information and how to manage the future.  It’s complex and it’s expensive, but tackling the issue will not get any easier with time.

Further, we are creating new content at breakneck speed, and achieving or maintaining competitive advantage WILL require an even better understanding of your information assets and how they can be leveraged for or against you.  You need to find what’s valuable, what’s neutral, and what is harmful.  Simply putting off information governance does not work, and hope is not a strategy.

Crystallization of Discontent

The time was yesterday to make a concerted effort to crystallize, to associate problems, conflicts, costs, objections, and other negative features of your information environment, in order to find the uber-ROI for information governance. You may not have a burning platform, but you undoubtedly have many smoldering planks.  I use the word “concerted” intentionally, as in “done or performed together or in cooperation,” because finding the uber-ROI must rely on many inputs.

Talk with people from different departments, including engineering, operations, marketing, and finance, not just legal and IT. Find out how they use information—really use it—and what their challenges are.  Can they find it when they need it?  Look for problems and opportunities that may seem unrelated.  Each alone may not be enough to move the needle, but when viewed together they can uncover the real, best reason for change.  You may even learn that the troops were just waiting for leadership to tell them it’s OK to get rid of things.

Timing is everything

Sometimes we get lucky and nothing bad happens on our watch. In fact, most companies go years without a significant event that draws the Eye of Sauron to a systemic failure.  But doesn’t good corporate stewardship require more than simply playing a game of hot potato with the foreseeable need to govern information?  The challenge merits board and executive-level attention.  Corporate management must actively seek to become discontent with the status quo by instead looking for opportunities to create new value and indicia of poor asset management.  Much can be quantified, such as the cost of litigation discovery, cost of storage, hard-dollar cost of a data breach.  Yet, developing the true, uber-ROI of information governance will also turn upon factors such as employee efficiency and retention, competitive positioning, and business insight.

So, why make the effort to find a reason to change if one does not present itself? The first reason is that technological progress will drive you to it.  The second reason is that the good of the organization demands it.