Don’t know about you, but I always make New Year’s resolutions. One of mine is to blog more. That shouldn’t be difficult, since I managed it about three times in 2009. In any case, the past is behind us and we can all look forward to a fresh start in whatever areas of our lives that seem to be lacking, whether they be personal or professional. So I’m starting again with the blogging thing, hoping to muster the time and discipline to make a habit of it. Wish me luck.
In keeping with the ‘fresh start, renewed ambition theme’, I’m going to suggest a place where most of us – every individual and every company, no matter what the size – could use some serious work: information governance. One of my fundamental beliefs, something that has only grown in my tenure at Gartner, is that we regard ‘information’ as a side effect of technology, rather than the object of the exercise. What I mean by that, is this: while we have been focusing on faster processing, increased bandwidth and ever denser storage devices, most of us have neglected to pay attention to the vast mountains of data that have been accumulating as a result of all this wonderful technology. But that’s not really a problem, is it? Because of course Google-Bing-Clusty-Yahoo can help us find whatever we need in all of that, and voila, we are vindicated. That email from our colleague that proves the point that we have been making (I DID SAY THAT: SEE?) is easily found on our desktop or in our email archiving system. But these two examples prove the point.
Everyone, but everyone, in every company that uses desktop or laptop PC, has the job of managing their own information. Some of us create personal taxonomies and file things carefully. Others rely on desktop search to find what they need. In any case, very few can see the point of deleting any of it: that disk is SO BIG and even if the information is of marginal (or no) value, saving it “just in case” is surely a good idea.
Think about this for a minute. How much time do you spend looking for, reading or rearranging files on your desktop? Even if you have a nifty desktop search engine that achieves perfect precision and recall of every single item you ever look for – and please, let us know if you do have that search engine – of what use is that information to your team or your company? The answer is ‘none at all’, unless you are there to find and interpret it for them. While you are on vacation, and I send you an email asking for ‘that document that I know we wrote but that I only have the 37 draft versions of versus number 38, which we decided was final’, I have NO ACCESS to your personal stash of goodies. And, everyone on our team has the same 38 versions (more or less) stored over and over and over again, on desktop, laptop, shared file drive, memory stick and (sometimes) in printed form, just for safekeeping. But storage is cheap and search is good (enough). So what?
There are lots of “so whats?”
Here are the questions that need asking: How much data does the company have? Where is that data? How much is it costing us to store it? Can we find what we need when we need it? Of what business value is the data that we are keeping? How often is it accessed? What are our legal and compliance obligations? Are we using it to its best advantage or are we keeping it because its simply too much trouble to sort the useful from the useless and bin what we can’t use?
There are many who argue – many colleagues at Gartner included – that the time of a well-paid knowledge worker should NOT be spent sorting through piles of data. Far cheaper, is it not, to let the data pile up, on personal hard drives, servers, data centers and then on tape? Why should we bother with any of it, as we have finished with THAT project and are moving on to the next one. After all, it’s a New Year and a New Decade even. Let’s move forward. That data may not help us – in truth we don’t know – but it certainly isn’t going to hurt us. And besides, storage is cheap, cheap, cheap and my staff have better things to do than look through old data and make decisions about its disposition.
When you examine these arguments closely, they do not stand up to scrutiny. Nor do the standard set that revolve around ‘Our lawyers say…’ or ‘We don’t know so…’ or ‘Having that data will vindicate us…’ I’m sure you have some of your own in order to continue to avoid the onerous task of information governance. I’m going to try and make the case that no matter how onerous it looks, no matter what your lawyers may be saying and however much resistance you think you will encounter in the user community, if you take up the cause of information governance in your organization you will be making a valuable contribution in 2010.
If you post comments and tell me how wrong I am, that will help me keep my blogging resolution. Have at it. I must now go and sort through my saved emails to find the one that tells me how to post this.
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