Information Governance

Tom HanksTom Hanks excels at illuminating our nation’s history, from John Adams to Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, Bridge of Spies, Apollo 13, and Charlie Wilson’s War.  Much of the impact springs from Hanks’ reverence for the primary source materials – the underlying records – that ground these compelling stories in the integrity of historical truth.  So it was no surprise last month when the National Archives Foundation honored Hanks with The Records of Achievement Award, an annual tribute to an individual “whose work has cultivated a broader national awareness of the history and identity of the United States through the use of original records.”

Fidelity to the facts, as documented in public records, is neither a quaint notion nor a mere gimmick to sell movie tickets or HBO subscriptions.  The integrity of our public institutions’ recordkeeping is an essential pillar of our democracy.  And it’s in peril. Continue Reading The importance of records in a post-truth America

Am I Drunk signWe’re addicted to information, but we can’t stand to think about it again once we’ve seen it, saved it, hoarded it.  Why?  We collect or create it in the moment, but have no thought or plan for its future.  Even when it was once and briefly useful, neglected information soon becomes the effluvium of our digital landfills.  And, like most landfills, the odor is disagreeable and no one wants to be near it.

Pinterest and the P:\ Drive

There is little doubt that social and cultural factors exacerbate and feed our addiction.  The immediate gratification of social media interactions, and the availability of “productivity” tools and data storage accelerate the accumulation of information.  “People hoard because they believe that an item [information] will be useful or valuable in the future. Or they feel it has sentimental value, is unique and irreplaceable . . . . They may also consider an item [information] a reminder that will jog their memory, thinking that without it they won’t remember an important person or event. Or because they can’t decide where something belongs, it’s better just to keep it.

How to Change

Addiction draws us into information overload, but our aversion to uncertainty keeps us from managing what we save or create.  Part of the challenge is that it’s just too hard to focus on something so big, yet so invisible.  We’ve all read the stats on how much information is created each year, but who understands how much 5 exabytes of information is anyway?   It’s beyond our tactile experience—like knowing how many gallons of water are in the ocean, or stars in the sky.

In thinking about change, Tali Sharot, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, proposes, “Messages that tap into basic human desires — such as the need for agency, a craving for hope, a longing to feel part of a group — are more likely to have impact.”

In a previous post I talked about the consequences of allowing our private selves to bleed into our work selves.  The answer comes back to the summary of human desires, “what’s in it for me”?  So, using Dr. Sharot’s examples, I add here to the list of things we can do for ourselves, and ultimately for our organizations: Continue Reading Addiction and aversion … the yin and yang of information

“GarGarbage Dumpbage in, garbage out” – we know that already, right?  Well … what we know about information quality and what we do are not always in sync. Just for kicks, consider information quality through the lens of the industrial quality movement.

Looking down from 30,000 feet, the history of industrial quality goes something like this – Medieval Guild craftsmanship, then Industrial Revolution product inspection, and then the post-World War II focus on quality process management.  It sounds arcane, until one remembers the 1980’s visceral fear that Japanese manufacturers were beating the pants off of U.S. manufacturing in terms of quality and value. Enter W. Edward Deming, who had been deeply influential in Japan’s post-war industrial recovery, and who became the evangelist for quality management practices in U.S. industry.  Deming exhorted American management to adopt product and service quality as the driving force in all business practices.

What’s that got to do with Information Governance?  It’s this – regardless of industry, in today’s world you’re actually in the information business.  So, business quality increasingly means information quality.   Continue Reading Why govern your information? Reason #5: Bad information results in bad decisions.

Dr. Lawrence WeedAmerican architect Louis Sullivan, who coined the iconic phrase “form ever follows function,” was flat wrong – at least when it comes to the relationship of what we do and how we capture it with data.  The reality is instead that the medium shapes the message, and that record-keeping alters the processes it records.  Need a current example?  One only has to consider how the President’s staccato bursts of tweets now drive public attention, media focus, and policy debates, both domestically and abroad.

But a more profound example is the life’s work of Dr. Lawrence Weed, who passed away last week at age 93.   Continue Reading With business processes and records, we have it backwards – function follows form

disk cleanupIn a previous post I suggested that Information Technology is really in a good position to help identify and clean up ROT (redundant, obsolete, and trivial information).  Sometimes, though, IT needs a helping hand to get the attention of those who can approve a budget for clean-up initiatives.  Here’s where Audit comes in.

Over the years, I’ve seen many information governance clean-up programs come to life in the wake of an expensive e-discovery effort, or an embarrassing and costly data breach.  Needless to say, such events draw the attention of the C-suite and boards of directors.  That attention usually translates into emergency funding and action to shut down e-mail retention, delete old files, and generally do what should have been done all along: better manage information.  Audits, whether external or internal, can serve the same function.

Continue Reading InfoSec Audit’s role in cleaning up ROT

When Earth Day rolls around each year, I can’t heEarth in human handslp but think of the picnic scene from Mad Men.  After Don Draper chucks his empty beer can into the pond, Betty snaps the blanket, dumping their litter across the grass, before trundling the kids off to the family car (12 MPG, leaded gas, with no emissions control).

Mad Men‘s magic was culture clash, the shocking contrast between the oblivious then – sexism, homophobia, humans as ashtrays – and our enlightened now.  What makes the picnic scene so memorable is the gobsmacking environmental thoughtlessness of that era, in which the only things green were money and envy.

And my, how far we’ve come.  We reduce, reuse, and recycle. Some of us compost, and others glare at the poor souls who still occasionally litter.  We spend extra money for energy-efficient vehicles and appliances.  We tend to buy local and organic, and we worry about chemicals in our food and water.  Most folks are concerned about climate change and believe we need to change human behavior to slow it.  In short, we devote significant thought, time, effort, and resources to be environmentally responsible.

At the same time, we remain completely oblivious to the swirling plumes of data exhaust we emit every day, and the toxic accumulations of data in the landfills of our devices, servers, and cloud accounts.  When it comes to data pollution, guess what – we’re Don and Betty.

Continue Reading Earth Day and data pollution

Twenty percent solutionOK, IT mavens, listen up…how much better would your life be if you only had to manage and protect 20% of your company’s data? By eliminating 80% of your data you could free up oodles of storage, reduce licensing costs, shorten backup cycles, and drastically cut e-discovery preservation costs, not to mention go home on time for a change.  For most this is an unrealistic pipe dream, but it doesn’t need to be.  The trick is knowing which 20% to manage.

Continue Reading The 20% solution for information management and security

Destroyed CDs - shredded by a shredder.It lingers on – that vaguely guilty feeling that there’s something sanctionable, even illegal, about routinely destroying business data.  That’s nonsense.  It is well-settled United States law that a company may indeed dispose of business data, if done in good faith, pursuant to a properly established, legally valid data retention schedule, and in the absence of an applicable litigation preservation duty.

Even the courts themselves dispose of their data.  Federal courts are required by U.S. law to follow a retention schedule approved by NARA, and to ultimately destroy records or transfer them to the Federal Records Center, as directed by that retention schedule.

Here are but a few of the many case decisions on this point:

Continue Reading Why govern your information? Reason #6: It’s OK to destroy your data.

Monster Ant“What if ants were as big as dinosaurs?”  I remember asking my kids that question, forever ago when they were young.  Maybe the thought came from reruns of old monster movies, like the 1954 classic Them! (pictured here).  Anyway, it was a cool game, for as the ant’s size multiplies, the laws of math, physics, and biology play their part:

  • The ant’s exoskeleton wouldn’t be strong enough to support the increased weight, so an internal skeleton is needed.
  • Gravity would play havoc with the ant’s open circulatory system, so a closed system is crucial.
  • The ant’s energy needs would soar, and so a different diet and digestive system are required.
  • The ant’s newfound size would totally alter its place in the food chain (The Lion King, “Circle of Life,” right?), driving fundamental changes in behaviors and capabilities.
  • And on, and on.

Until, we finally end up with an ant the size of a dinosaur … that looks a lot like a dinosaur.

But what’s this have to do with Information Governance?

Continue Reading Ants, Dinosaurs, and Information Governance

Baby playing with phoneThere’s been a lot of news lately about “secret” messaging in government, including inside the White House and the EPA, and last week’s revelation that Vice President Pence conducted state business with a private email account while Governor of Indiana. So there’s lots of angst right now about under-the-radar communications.  When you think about it, though, it’s really old news tied to new technology.  The only difference is the growing sophistication of the tools in the last few decades.  Old School: clandestine meetings in parking garages.  New School: disappearing messages.

What is really at issue here is not the technology, but rather the implied intent of circumventing rules (if they exist), and whether or not the communications are records. By any measure, if the communication is a record as defined by public or private rules, it must be retained.  Herein lies the problem.

Continue Reading We’re still babes in the wood when it comes to electronic messaging