The old proverb, "He who fails to plan, plans to fail," has never been truer than in today's information management environment. Many businesses are cash strapped, and spending policies are more restrained than ever. Unfortunately, IM is often deemed an unnecessary expenditure, and many companies have developed a make-do attitude that has led them to cut corners.

I'm not advocating unfettered spending on anything these days, but I'm imploring you not to forget about your data. To that end, there are ways to spend smart and get the most for your money out of your IM budget - and to boost your IM capabilities in the process. 

The first step to smart IM spending is to realize that data is one of the most valuable assets your company has. To understand the value of data, just ask yourself, "How much would I pay for someone to give me mission-critical information that was accurate and timely or for vital customer information that could drive sales and profits, and thus, shareholder value?" The answer for most companies is easy. If the information is truly valuable, the price is costly. Most companies have that information hidden deep inside their systems - they just may not know it or have the ability to access it.

Treating data as an asset requires a comprehensive IM strategy that includes a streamlined IM environment. Develop your strategy by taking a look at how information is captured, processed and disseminated to knowledge workers and management. Do you have a common IM framework? Is it the framework that best suits your data needs? Do you have a common enterprise platform? Common IM frameworks and platforms can save money by reducing maintenance costs and licensing fees, making network administration easier and decreasing learning curves for new applications.  

Speaking of applications, I still can't believe how many companies have a bloated IM environment that consists of multiple, often redundant, task-specific IM applications that create thousands of reports of dubious value to anyone. It's easy to see how this happens. Despite the best efforts of every consultant, pundit and guru with an opinion on IM issues, departmental fiefdoms and their accompanying information silos still dominate the IM landscape at most companies. This creates IM anarchy, a proliferation of IM applications and reports that are often unnecessary, redundant and unused.

One effective method to quell this IM anarchy is to perform an analysis of corporate IM applications and reporting capabilities to streamline your IM environment. The purpose is to determine what you have, what you need, what you don't need and how to bridge the gap between the current situation and critical needs.To determine whether or not to keep an application or a report, the bottom-line question to ask is, "How much is this information, or system, or report costing the business, and is the cost worth the benefit?" If the cost outweighs the benefits, you have your answer. This type of analysis can help you ferret out unused reports that gather dust on people's desks. More importantly, it allows you to find out what information gives you the most value for your money. 

It's a good bet that you'll end up with about 50 or so critical reports, and just as many reports that could be eliminated. Cutting this waste will not only save  processing and printing time, it will conserve money in terms of human and technology resources no longer producing useless information.

Do the same thing with your IM applications. Are there redundant applications that are simply department specific? Do you have multiple data marts or analysis systems that essentially perform the same tasks, just for different functions? If so, look at combining them. For example, can sales and marketing share an application with function-specific reporting? These questions are not rocket science, but you'd be amazed at how often corporate environments devolve into a morass of need-specific IM applications that only serve a single purpose. 

None of what I'm telling you is new; most of my colleagues and I have been preaching the benefits of a comprehensive IM strategy for years, often to deaf ears. In relatively good times, when pennies are not so pinched, it's easy to get by without taking the time or money to develop a concrete strategy and stick to it. Not so, today. It's a question of pay me now or pay me later. If you spend a little now to develop a well-rounded IM strategy, you just may be able to avoid spending money you may not have later to fix the problems that will inevitably occur without one.

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