Raging economic, financial, legal and regulatory pressures on businesses have increased attention and reliance on sound information management practices. Business workers' need for real-time information is no longer considered a nice to have they demand access to accurate information at their fingertips to. Compounded by the increasing speed of business and the volume of information created across a variety of organizational platforms and application silos, numerous access points and inefficiencies result in information chaos. Surprisingly, it is not the volume of information that is the cause, rather, it is the lack of controls to manage information through its life cycle. Symptoms of poor information control include data redundancy, duplicate content generation and data residing in multiple locations.
As companies continue to acknowledge these concerns, they are caught in the common low hanging fruit trap of implementing basic data management practices to address this issue, mistaking data management for information management. Existing information silos result in the proliferation of various data management systems, inconsistencies between information sources, increased ongoing operational and maintenance costs, and eventually disgruntled employees. Ironically, these impacts could altogether be avoided had the issue been treated as an information management problem from the onset.
Information management can be defined as interdependent practices and technology designed for the purposes of aggregating, processing, synthesizing and distributing information with a goal of achieving front office and back office efficiencies. In reality, lack of focus on sound information management has resulted in mismanagement of information, lack of vision for how to address the ongoing generation of information, limited areas of efficiency gains and larger overhead in other areas, causing management to question the true value of these programs. These consequences are further exacerbated because information takes many forms and the sources of information are varied increasing and ever-changing. This is a result of execution and not an issue with the concept. A true information management strategy incorporates these considerations and is scalable and flexible to adapt accordingly with relative ease.
Developing An Enterprise Information Approach
Given the economic conditions and growing corporate sensitivity to technology expenditures with budgets being aggressively slashed, corporations do not have the luxury to start afresh and implement information management befittingly from the ground up. With minimal funds to appropriate, IT leadership is forced to move forward and make do with existing technology stacks and practices (such as master data management, warehousing and data sanitization) and exercise creativity in how it improves upon these areas. Armed with the correct perspective of information management, there are a number of gradual steps that an organization can take to advance at an enterprise level without having to incur the hefty costs and resource investments of an information management overhaul.
A critical key to addressing information management is understanding what constitutes enterprise information and its characteristics: 1) How is it generated internal and/or external, 2) How it evolves 3) What its dependencies are, 4) How is it consumed, 5) How is it distributed, 6) Its relevance, 7) What makes it discernible from other types of information, and 8) its shelf life. The intent is to understand and document information flows and maps, creating an enterprise information view of what the organization considers information (and relevant characteristics) across all major processes. This view also needs to account for department-specific information for value-add activities.
For larger organizations, this process may be a daunting task. To simplify the effort, organizations should identify what it considers to be information and evaluate its scope in this context is it based on geography? Is it based on lines of business? Or can be evaluated as an information flow that courses through various functional areas (such as lease billing which gets its start from the execution of a contract). By dividing information into smaller chunks, creating an Enterprise Information View becomes more manageable and contained.
Once the information itself is understood, the EIV enables the scrutinization of the current application architecture (which depicts the data management landscape) to: 1) demonstrate gaps in information 2) identify data that does not need to be saved 3) pin point redundancies and as a result, highlight areas of improvement. Ultimately, this will offer insights into which applications could possibly be enhanced, combined, integrated and/or replaced to streamline and tighten the information management process.
An Enterprise Information Management Case Study
A global manufacturer had a geographically distributed organizational structure. Information was contained in multiple silos division, business unit and individual levels. Even though IT was se tup as a centralized shared services model, each business unit used and maintained its own stack of applications, platforms and technologies. IT had already spent a significant amount of time and money building a Web services-based integration model in an attempt to tie these disparate systems together. But the promise of integrated systems was woefully short, because Web services still involved static code that required customization and significant ongoing maintenance. Information was duplicated in multiple places, and the organization had even developed different sets of controls for the same piece of information, in an effort to comply with regulatory requirements. To compound matters, users were allowed to create and set up their own collaboration sites with little to no oversight. The organization soon found itself overtaken with a proliferation of sites with various levels of objectives, information, controls, access and use. Additionally, the organization was also knee deep in regulatory and litigation issues and required a large multi-million dollar budget just to support its ongoing e-discovery and search needs. Given this scenario, how does one create information harmony in the organization?
The organization's leadership quickly recognized the need for information control management to reduce costs and streamline its operational processes. An information control SWAT team was established consisting of key stakeholders representing various lines of business: legal, compliance, audit and IT/information architects. The team was given a 45-day window to synthesize the issues and develop recommendations to improve information management across all information sources. The team was chartered to analyze applications/systems, information sources, repositories, data warehouses end-user created tools and usage patterns across the spectrum of the company. This work was significantly aided by the fact that IT already had an inventory of systems that the team was able to leverage as a starting point. The team met with end users, line managers and senior management to understand how information was produced, accessed, updated and disposed through an EIV. Existing document, content and records management applications were also reviewed for usage and user adoption to understand what currently worked well.
At the end of the 90-day period, the SWAT team developed an information management model for the organization that consisted of a one, three and five-year plan to bring order to the information chaos. The plan called for developing a common information model, focusing ongoing efforts on reusing versus creating new information sources, implementing an MDM framework and use of third-party applications to enhance data controls. While it will take some time for the organization to fully realize the benefits of a well-managed information model, it clearly took the right steps in bringing information harmony.
The following are some key points that information managers must consider when attempting to manage information within their organizations:
- Recognize the need for information standardization earlier rather than later. Standardizing the enterprise information is easier said than done. It is always more prudent to exercise the appropriate due diligence upfront in defining an information model. Attempting to make disparate systems conform to a common information model or taxonomy after the fact is fraught with perils. A typical system may require months of redesign, recoding, retesting if it is forced to conform to an information model that it was not initially designed for.
- Start with assessing and determining systems risk. Systems risk analysis can be performed by conducting an information risk assessment within the company and identifying the various business, financial, operational, legal and regulatory risks. Determine the top risk factors to the health of the organization if information is not managed properly. Use this to develop a scorecard model to rank the key information systems against these risks. The goal is to find out which systems constitute the highest risk to the organization.
- Develop an enterprise methodology to classify and tag information. Understanding your information through an EIV is the first step to developing an enterprise classification methodology that suits your organization. At a minimum, systems currently in the process of being implemented or undergoing upgrades must conform to this classification structure. Legacy data classification will not be easy, but balance the cost/benefit versus the risk of performing some sort of classification. Most importantly, it is critical to develop a knowledge management framework to maintain order around the information as it makes its way through its lifecycle.
- Build seamlessness and control wherever possible. Develop a way to tie key disparate systems and applications together by leveraging one of more of the following, such as XML, MDM models, federated controls, information portals and so forth. Reduce information duplication and redundancy by ensuring a single source for key data sets.
- Assess the viability of developing an enterprise-level solution. Create a centralized information backbone that houses key information with relevant metadata as a source/feeder system for dependent applications (such as an enterprise resource planning).
- Accessibility. Accessibility. Accessibility. Focus efforts on developing strong federated search capabilities across systems and application and business processes. It is acceptable to leverage third-party applications where necessary, but ensure that there is a way to search for and extract relevant pieces of information quickly, consistently and accurately.
- Account for the impact of Web 2.0. Assess the impact of collaboration and social networking on information generation, storage and sharing. New types of information are being introduced into the organization on a frequent basis, and organizations must be able to adapt and develop a way to control and manage them on an ongoing basis.
- Educate and involve employees. Develop training and communication to reinforce that information is a corporate asset that has significant organizational value. Moreover, emphasize their roles in this process and empower them to assist in developing and maintaining the information.
- Above all, ensure data integrity. Data must be trustworthy, current, authentic and available. Continually monitor information quality through automated and procedural controls and develop mechanisms to assess and monitor on an ongoing basis.
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