Courtesy of Wikipedia, To Serve Man (The Twilight Zone)

To truly appreciate just how we are served by the digital economy, we must revisit Damon Knight’s award-winning 1950 short story To Serve Man.  Popularized by a beloved 1962 TV episode of The Twilight Zone, Knight’s tale tells of aliens coming to Earth to bring humans “peace and plenty.”  Courtesy of the aliens’ advanced technologies, we soon enjoy the global benefits of unlimited electrical power, inexhaustible food, and the end of warfare.  And better yet, humans are invited to visit the aliens’ home planet, a galactic paradise.

Meanwhile, a skeptical person toils to decipher the aliens’ cryptic language, in order to read a purloined alien book and come to understand their motives for such astounding beneficence toward humankind.  The book’s translated title is reassuring – “To Serve Man.”  Only later is our intrepid translator able to decipher the book’s first paragraph, revealing that it is not a treatise on helping humanity.  It’s a cookbook.

The digital revolution has indeed brought us benefits on a global scale, unimaginable just a few decades ago.  The Internet informs us, social media connect us, and our apps and devices support us.  All problems solved, right?

But something is wrong in our advanced-technology-paradise.  The digital economy traffics in something of great value – our information – and we remain largely oblivious to the basis of our “bargain.”  The signs are right there, in front of us, like a book waiting to be read.  For example, consider this from The Atlantic:
Continue Reading How the digital economy serves us

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:
Continue Reading Why govern our information? Reason #8: It can build – or bust – your brand

Person hiding head in the sandI keep getting asked about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.  And no one seems to like my response – I’m frankly amazed that this all took so long to blow up.  How long?  How about since 1973.  That’s when the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare first articulated the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs or FIPs) in its report Records, Computers, and the Rights of Citizens: Report of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data SystemsThe FIPPs went on to become bedrock global privacy principles, and central to them are the principles of notice and consent.

As the FTC later explained in Privacy Online: A Report to Congress:

1. NOTICE/AWARENESS
The most fundamental principle is notice. Consumers should be given notice of an entity’s
information practices before any personal information is collected from them….

2. CHOICE/CONSENT
The second widely-accepted core principle of fair information practice is consumer choice
or consent. At its simplest, choice means giving consumers options as to how any personal
information collected from them may be used….

These mechanisms – notice and consent – are what make a self-governing privacy system work.  If someone (such as Facebook) is going to obtain and use our personal data, they should first give us notice of how they will use it (such as provide or sell it to others), and then we make a choice – we either consent and provide our data, or we don’t.  The government may enforce these representations and choices under fair trade practices laws, such as FTC Act Section 5, but the rules themselves are made in the marketplace.

There has to be some source of governance.  The alternative to self-governance through notice and consent is governance by government, with legislators and regulators making the rules for how our data is handled.  There’s quite a bit of that in the EU and elsewhere, but in the United States, outside of specific sectors such as healthcare (HIPAA), education (FERPA), and financial services (GLBA & FCRA), there’s little such regulation here.  In the U.S. we’ve made a policy decision to largely self-govern the privacy of personal data.

Fast forward from 1973 and, especially in our Internet-driven, U.S. self-regulatory environment, we’ve got a large, smoking crater – precious little government regulation, and even less personal responsibility.  Let’s face it.  We don’t actually pay attention to privacy policies and terms of use, and we don’t actually make informed choices on our consent to data practices for our personal information.  Under our self-governing privacy system, look in the mirror.  The enemy is ourselves.


Continue Reading (But wait, I didn’t) notice and consent

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.
Continue Reading Why govern your information? Reason #2: Your information risks and opportunities arise from a single source – your data. Your response strategies should be synchronized too.

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

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.

Continue Reading Why govern your information? Reason #8: It can build – or bust – your brand

KindergartenSometimes we make things way too complicated – especially our relationship with business data. Allow me to “kidnap” Robert Fulghum’s classic poem – wisdom in effectively governing information compliance, cost, risk, and value is not found exclusively at the top of the data science mountain, but there in the sandpile at kindergarten.  Here are the things we learned there:

Continue Reading All we really need to know about Information Governance we learned in kindergarten