Information Governance

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:
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3d blue cubes come together from different directions.Dr. Stephen Covey reminded us that “important” is not the same thing as “urgent.”  Records retention reminds us that important is not the same thing as exciting.  I get it – records retention schedules are boring.  But the fact remains that literally thousands of records retention requirements apply to your organization’s information.  I know, because my firm finds and tracks these laws as part of our decades of retention schedule work for clients across industries.  And your regulators expect you to know them too.

Records retention requirements generally apply to information’s content, regardless of the information’s medium – electronic data, paper, you name it.  The requirements are scattered across the federal and 50 states’ statutory and regulatory codes, often with unusual retention mandates.  Here are just a few:
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Image of one hundred bill burning “If your clients don’t have a records management system, they may as well take their money out into the parking lot and set it on fire.”

– Former U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John Facciola

We all know that ediscovery is expensive, and various research reports have so confirmed. The definitive Rand study, Where the Money Goes: Understanding Litigant Expenditures for Producing Electronic Discovery, found that median costs for collection, processing, and review are $17,507 per gigabyte (roughly 3,500 documents or 10,000 e-mails).  The math is not pretty – a case involving 482 GBs of source data could exceed $8 million in ediscovery costs.

And on top of that are preservation costs. The  Preservation Costs Survey demonstrated that large companies incur significant fixed costs for preservation (for in-house ediscovery personnel and also for procurement and maintenance of legal hold management and data preservation technology systems), averaging $2.5 million annually.  More significant is the cost of employee time lost in complying with legal holds.  While companies with up to 10,000 employees incur the average time cost of over $428,000 per year, costs for the largest companies exceed $38 million per year.

There is indeed great complexity in how to cost-effectively process huge amounts of data through the ediscovery funnel. Tighter management of ediscovery processes continues to be important.

But as we ponder how to cut costs, let’s not confuse symptoms with causes:
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Security dial turned to highest settingHow time flies.  Seventeen years ago, I went to work for a small, visionary company based in Seattle—Computer Forensics, Inc.   Indeed, the founder was so early in the e-discovery and forensics industry that our URL was forensics.com.  Laptop drives typically had 8 GB of storage, and servers were more often than not simply a bigger box that sat in a closet.

Lots has changed since then.  New technologies, expanded data sources and media types, and more raw data have flooded consumer and business marketplaces alike.  We’ve all seen the scary statistics on increasing information volumes and the security risks that follow.  Unfortunately, our controls for the creation, management, retention, and disposition of those data have not kept pace.  Yet how we manage our data on a day-to-day basis goes also to the heart of how we protect our data and ensure that our information assets are secure from theft or compromise.

During my years at CFI and since, I’ve found myself pondering “what if?” questions.  What if we only had to protect 20% of our information?  What if clients could take dollars earmarked for e-discovery and increased storage and spend them instead on better systems and operational improvements?  What if a client faced with the reality of a data breach didn’t have to wonder how many unnecessary skeletons were now visible?  The promise of information governance is that we can answer these questions affirmatively.  This is good news, and more importantly, news you can use.
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Fried egg on the sidewalk
“This is your information, ungoverned.”

2017 was rife with data dangers.  Nary a day passed without headlines of massive data breaches and ransomware attacks; Russian election-meddling through WikiLeaks and social media; fake news; and presidential tweet-storms.  Disruptive information-driven technologies continued to emerge, from block-chain to biometrics, IoT, AI, and robotics.  Meanwhile, the sheer volume of our personal and business data inexorably grew.

What better way to start 2018 than with a renewed commitment to Information Governance?  So, here are a dozen reasons why your organization should govern its information, in 2018 and beyond: 
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Charging ElephantOur firm’s elephant icon is a nod to The Blind Men and the Elephant, the familiar, age-old parable for how we often do not see the big picture, but instead only the parts we directly encounter. And so it goes for organizations’ data. Individual company functions and departments often have their own, limited perspectives on information, seeing only the risks and opportunities with which they are directly familiar. Limited perspective yields limited perception – not a good thing for identifying, understanding, and controlling organizational risk.

I actually prefer a slightly different version, The Blind Elephants and the Man:

One day, six blind elephants were in a heated argument about what Man was like. To resolve their dispute, they sought out and found a man. The first elephant “felt” the man and then proclaimed “Man is flat.” Each of the other elephants, in turn, felt the man, and they all agreed.

The moral? Limited perspective not only yields limited perception – it can also lead to very bad results.

“Information Governance” has become an overused buzz-phrase, often trotted out as marketing mumbo-jumbo for selling technology tools.  In all the hype one can easily lose track of what it really means.  At its heart, Information Governance is no more – and no less – than making sure the organization sees the big picture of information compliance, cost, risk, and opportunity when making strategic decisions.
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Weird SportIt’s a common nightmare.  As you toss and turn in bed, you picture yourself on a strange playing field with other athletes swirling around you.  You have absolutely no idea what sport you are playing, nor a clue what the rules are.  it’s not only embarrassing – it’s downright dangerous.

This is not just a bad dream – it’s reality for companies possessing third-party data without clarity on what rules and responsibilities apply.
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Zuzu's PetalsFacebook this week announced its new social media application targeted at children,  Messenger Kids.  Designed to be COPPA-compliant, the text, video chat and photo-sharing app combines parental controls with all of the quirky features that tweens and younger folks will simply love, thereby ensuring Facebook will enjoy a next generation of engaged customers … and also their data.

The new app drops smack into the ongoing cultural debate over the wisdom of young children being exposed to regular internet and social media use.  Detractors of the new Facebook app note concerns about data collection and use.  The Wait until 8th campaign advocates for no smart phone use until eighth grade.  Notably, both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs limited their children’s access to technology.  And studies regularly link social media use with increased rates of depression among youth.

The notion is that young people should be protected from unfettered exposure to social media and the Internet until they are old enough to use these tools with responsibility and moderation.  Fair point, but a flawed premise: when it comes to responsible and moderate use of technology, we adults still have a lot of work to do.
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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.
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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:
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