Information Governance – what it is and why we need it

ZyLAB and the Information Governance Initiative join forces to spread some light about Information Governance in an on-demand webinar.

The Information Governance Initiative is a cross-disciplinary think-tank and consortium dedicated to advancing information governance practices and technologies. It is supported by many of the technology companies whose software and skills transfer easily from electronic discovery into the prior and wider field of information governance.

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 22.03.33One of those companies is ZyLAB, whose range has long extended into what is now called information governance, with software solutions designed to help companies manage the data which they possess for positive purposes as well as for the reactive and defensive purposes of dealing with eDiscovery and investigations.

One of the principal architects of the information governance initiative is Barclay Blair of ViaLumina. One of the most highly-regarded speakers on corporate data management is Mary Mack, Enterprise Technology Counsel at ZyLAB. They come together in a recently-broadcast webinar which is now available for download here. Its title is Information Governance: what it is and why we need it, and it gives a first rate overview of this increasingly important subject, and at a practical level. The IGI’s own page about the webinar is here.

Barclay Blair begins by setting up some of the claims for information governance, only to knock them down into practical reality. There is talk, he said, of data as “the new oil” and “a new asset class” and we are told of the great things that data can do for us, with thousands of jobs to be created as companies recognise that 60 to 70% of their data is at best junk and at worst toxic.

All that is true, Barclay says, but his purpose is to examine what he describes as “the disconnect between breathless data talk and reality”. How in practice should companies tackle this data and who should run the project?

You might like to start by looking at the Mission of the Information Governance Initiative here. Its architects, in addition to Barclay Blair himself, are Bennett Borden, Jason Baron and Jay Brudz of Drinker Biddle. Their self-imposed remit includes research, publishing, advocacy and peer-to-peer networking with the aim of understanding the problem and improving the practices and the technologies used to deal with it. Barclay Blair gives a definition of information governance:

The activities and technologies organisations employ to maximise the value of their information while minimising associated risks and costs.

It is perhaps significant that the IGI definition refers first to value and only then to risk. Barclay acknowledges that the demands of US discovery, so much more extreme than anywhere else, provide a layer of risk-driven impetus which others may lack. The focus on uncovering value knows no such boundaries.

As Mary Mack observes, for all its similarities with eDiscovery skills, information governance often lacks the impetus given by eDiscovery demands. In that context, we are forced to ask “who do we need in the room?” to fight the fire. Responsibility for information governance is not always so clear. The value aspect perhaps has a wider range of potential champions within a company.

One of the characteristics of information governance is that it crosses disciplines and is therefore not by default the responsibility of anyone. For this reason, amongst others, a project will only succeed if it has the active support of someone high up in the organisation.

It might be seen as an opportunity for in-house lawyers – not just (as Barclay put it) “an opportunity for legal, for once, to say ‘Yes'”), but part of the changing function of legal departments as they become more embedded in the business.

The CIO has the magic word “information” in his title, but does not necessarily have the cross-disciplinary clout which is required. IT people, even those with the title of Chief Operating Officer, tend to see themselves as providing the pipes and wires – “we don’t make the movies, but we make sure they are delivered”, together with the brutally practical – “We create the database, and if you choose to fill it with garbage then that’s your problem”. How can we bring the subject up the agenda and ignite a common interest in place of these disparate roles and functions which, if they do not actively conflict, rarely seem to see a common interest?

The standard question involves return on investment, with the perception that no project will fly in an organisation unless you can show how, and in a mathematical way, that the company will get back more than it invests. The problem with such accountancy-led approaches is that many things – whether positive and valuable things or negative and risky things – are not capable of calculation in the way accountants think they should be. One might credibly assert, for example, that employees waste 40% of their time looking for information and each of us may know that to be true of ourselves; turning that into a hard case for investment is rather harder.

Barclay Blair suggests that RoI is very often a political need rather than a financial one – a decision is made anyway, and the RoI exercise is done to justify it.

Most of the leaders in information governance, he says, are at the front because something bad happened in their organisation and they did not want to go through it again. In the US in particular, that “something bad” is often related to litigation. In other organisations, information governance is taken on as a matter of operational discipline, part of the company’s overall operational excellence.

What underlies all this, Barclay Blair says, is quantifying costs and quantifying benefits. Mary Mack observes that eDiscovery costs are generally quantifiable, but that relatively few companies seem to do it. Barclay says that defensible deletion is driving much of the move towards information governance, because there is a hard dollar saving which can be identified. The two points are related – eDiscovery costs go down significantly if work has been done a) to diminish the amount of junk which a company keeps on which might otherwise be candidates for at least the first stages of eDiscovery and b) to classify the rest. Another example is migration projects where data is to be moved from one system to another or to the cloud, where the stupidity of simply removing garbage from one place to another becomes obvious.

There is much more in this hour-long webinar which I commend to anyone, whether in a company or at its legal advisers, who wants an introduction to the subject of information governance. There is a link to the webinar here.

About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Defensible deletion, Discovery, Document Retention, eDisclosure, eDiscovery, Electronic disclosure, Information Governance. Bookmark the permalink.

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