A metal cattle brand with the word brand as the marking areaThe “business case” for information governance often focuses solely on quantifying specific costs for data management and exposures for data security and ediscovery.  Number crunching is of course important, but it misses something bigger, more strategic, and ultimately more crucial to the organization – its brand.  Companies, regardless of industry, are fundamentally in the information business.  It follows that how an organization manages its information assets reveals how the organization manages itself.  And that matters, a lot, because companies that align themselves with their brand, achieving brand discipline, are more successful.

In their seminal 1993 Harvard Business Review article, Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema made the case for how highly successful companies (1) understand and redefine value for their customers, (2) build “powerful, cohesive business systems” to deliver more of that value than their competitors, and (3) raise their customers’ expectations beyond what the competition can deliver.  The most successful companies do this work within at least one of three disciplines: operational excellence, product leadership, or customer intimacy.

Treacy and Wiersema based their insights on an intensive study of 40 companies that achieved breakout success in their markets.  They followed the article with their quintessential business strategy book The Discipline of Market Leaders.  Twenty years later, this book is likely still on your CEO’s bookshelf.

What’s the point for information governance?  It’s this – a successful company brand cannot be lipstick on a pig.  It must be organic, a discipline that pervades the organization from the bottom to the top, inward and outward, in its core processes, business structure, management systems, and culture.  And how your organization manages information value, cost, compliance, and risk is no exception.  Simply put, stronger information governance yields a stronger brand for your business.  And this is true for each of the three disciplines of highly successful companies:

Operational Excellence

Companies aligned with this discipline are singularly focused on operational efficiency and cost control, such as in low-margin, high volume market segments or industries.  Such companies are not “penny-wise and pound foolish.”  Instead, they methodically identify uncontrolled, wasteful practices and correct them. Tolerating sloppy information practices creates brand dissonance, because money is squandered through unnecessary data retention and business inefficiency.  Adopting information governance empowers this brand by reducing unnecessary data retention and storage, streamlining data workflows, driving down costs, and increasing efficiency.

Product Leadership

These companies are driven to achieve excellence in their creative, innovative products or services.  Their entrepreneurial culture fosters out-of-the-box thinking and experimentation, while management measures and rewards success.  Time is always of the essence, for innovative excellence companies are in a perpetual race to the future in service and product development.  Poor data practices prevent such companies from being able to timely access and optimize the value of their information.  Adopting information governance energizes this brand by ensuring that valuable information is reliably captured for innovative repurpose, while reducing the delay and distraction of unnecessarily retained data.

Customer Intimacy

Companies with this discipline have an unrelenting focus on delivering solutions for their customer’s needs, and on strategically managing the customer relationship.  Often such organizations are in a “trusted adviser” role, such as professional service firms.  Uncontrolled information practices are anathema to this brand, such as inadequate data security practices or the failure to establish an overall control environment for the customer/client’s information.  But adopting information governance fuels this brand.   Safeguards are strengthened for customer data entrusted to the organization, and customer perceptions of the organization as a trusted custodian are enhanced.  Also, valuable information about the customer relationship is readily and reliably available, without the disorganized clutter of unnecessary data.

How your company manages information value, cost, compliance, and risk is central to how your company manages its brand.  Poor information practices get in the way, diluting or derailing the chosen business discipline.  Effective information governance aligns with your company’s brand, energizing it for success.  And that’s why information governance is not merely about cost and risk control – it’s a strategic business imperative.