Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Information Overload – July 2016 – Policy, Strategy and Process. Why do we put the Cart before the Horse?

Shirley Cowcher

What comes first?

When you consider the implementation of a best practice information management system (by system I’m not referring to technology) what do you consider the essential components?

In my experience most information managers will tell you that organisations need:

• Qualified human resources;
• An EDRMS or an ECM;
• A taxonomy or business classification scheme;
• A retention and disposal schedule;
• Procedures and guidelines;
• A training programme;
• Support from ITC; and
• An ongoing budget.
They rarely tell me that they need to complete a business analysis project so that they can review the organisation’s vision, policies and strategic plan and develop:

• Information principles and policies;
• An Information Management Framework;
• An Information Governance Framework; and
• Short and long term implementation plans.
It would seem that when it comes to managing information most organisations want to consider only the day to day activities associated with using the information and don’t have a long term focus of the value of the information now and into the future. 

Let’s get quick runs on the board

Isn’t that what every business manager wants? When it is identified that there are failings in the information management area of the business and users are complaining about not knowing where to store, how to find, or when to dispose of information, the solution always has to be a quick fix.
I often think the need for the quick fix directly correlates to the value placed on information by the organisation feeling the pain. That is if there is a lack of information culture throughout the organisation then there does not seem to be an appreciation of how the solution to the problem may not be achieved in the short-term. Whereas those organisations that are showing a maturity in information management see that there needs to be long-term solutions and may have even identified the problems before they had become catastrophic.
It also seems that if those quick wins are achieved then the culture doesn’t change and the organisation stumbles along managing only through the knowledge of the individuals rather than solid and proven systems.
Some quick wins may be:
• All hands on deck to find the missing item.
• Set auto delete on the email system to reduce the storage requirements.
• Develop a “bucket” classification scheme to meet the needs of divisions within the organisation without considering the whole of organisation functions and activities.
• Setting up processes specific to one work group to keep them happy.
I’m not saying quick wins are a bad thing. Sometimes we need to be seen to achieving something. However, if all we ever aim for is quick wins then we will never achieve the ultimate goal of an organisation with a mature information culture that benefits from the information it holds, and even has the opportunity to reuse the information in ways that may not have been previously considered.

Are quick wins the horse or the cart?

Quick wins generally are process driven and relatively easy to achieve. They are not greatly disruptive or culturally challenging to the whole of the organisation. Whilst they may require a change in work practices for some people they are not generally seen as large scale and costly to the organisation as a whole. They are the cart.
Process should be developed after policy and strategy have been formed. Yet this rarely occurs. The reason being that information is not accepted as a tangible asset. Information is seen as a by-product of the core functions of the organisation and in many cases something that has to be kept to meet governance requirements, nothing more, and therefore somehow worth less consideration.

Do we even have a horse to put before the cart?

Information policy and strategy rarely get a mention when you talk to those divisional directors that hold responsibility for information and records management. In some cases the information culture and maturity of the organisation is so lacking that the resources allocated to the function are limited in both amount and quality. Where knowledgeable and enthusiastic resources are available their efforts are often thwarted by lack of recognition and authority to act. There are many organisations where the only aspects of information management that are acknowledged are those which are process driven, e.g. filing, mail management, archiving. Any of this sounding familiar? 
I have even noticed that a quick review of annual reports and websites of both public and private organisations rarely make reference to information management policy and strategy but you will see reference to financial and human resource policies and strategies. Again, tangible versus intangible assets.

Are we pushing a cart that doesn’t need a horse?

As a person who has worked in the information management area for more than 30 years I am dismayed that I have seen little change in this area other than the significant adoption of technology. So I wonder why this is and can only pose questions as a conclusion to this muse. As a person who works in this field am I pushing my own barrow? Is information management purely a process which doesn’t need policy or strategy? Am I asking the wrong questions or directing them at the wrong people?

Your responses would be appreciated.