Friday, July 22, 2011

Information Governance with SharePoint

I recently attended a seminar on Information Governance and until then I had not really considered what "Information Governance" was all about, much less that it was anything significant.  I now think there is something to this concept.

Having worked on several projects that focused primarily on records or case folder management and having my eyes opened to the real problems that most government agencies have with how they manage their records, I have a growing understanding and respect for the industry of records management.  I have heard from more than one records management professional that "Records Management is not rocket science". However, there are some organizational issues that create problems trying to implement a sound and compliant records management program. The main problem being that no one seems to care enough about records management. Unfortunately little attention is paid to this area, with everyone sharing the responsibility to perform records management but few realizing the importance of doing so. And, for those of us who have been around long enough to remember the office admin assistant (secretary), many of them are not there anymore to keep us straight and our records filed correctly. Some organizations don't think about records management seriously until  they are being sued for something they did or didn't do, and now they can't find documents to support what was done.  Too Late!!!

The seminar I attended focused on records management capabilities of an application that works with SharePoint 2010, but the epiphany that I experienced had more to do with the emerging importance of Information Governance.

As it was explained, information governance is the convergence of Records Management, Search or eDiscovery and Storage Management. As these functions overlap the importance of reducing records management resources, easing access to information and saving storage costs creates a focus on the information within the framework and the ability to govern this information.

So what does this have to do with SharePoint?  The popularity of SharePoint across the Government is phenomenal. About 3 out of 4 agencies are using SharePoint to some degree. And as many of you have probably heard, there are just about as many horror stories on what went wrong with the implementation.  One of the benefits of SharePoint is the tremendous capabilities that it can provide to the user to create websites, share and store documents like never before. However, therein lies the problem for many agencies. Careful thought and planning must occur prior to implementation and a vigorous governance framework must lead the way. Otherwise existing information governance issues become exaggerated and spiral out of control.

Back to records management for a moment. An idea frequently espoused by records management professionals is the idea that good records management is all about the content, not the container. This emphasizes the importance of the information within the record and not the container which holds the information. With this in mind, think of what is going on with electronic information in particular. The amount of information is growing exponentially and the access and storage of this information is also expanding in new ways ranging from social media to cloud computing. This ever increasing amount of information from various sources creates a demand for agency-wide collaboration tools like SharePoint.  So how do you address the implementation of an agency-wide collaboration tool like SharePoint?

Common sense tells me that first you must find out what you don't know. Get a basic understanding of what information you have and the various types of containers the information is in.  This may not be a simple task. Any agency which has been around for more than a couple of years will have an amazing amount of information and it may be in dozens of formats. And also typical for many organization, much of this information is not known by the agency as a whole, but known only to a few within a business unit. In my opinion there are two primary reasons for this lack of agency knowledge.

First, records management has not been a priority for the organization. Records inventories are not conducted and file plans either do not exist or are not followed. This leads to the development of records and information that is not tracked and managed.  This creates a "You don't know what you don't know" situation.

Second, the agency CIO either is not fully empowered or does not have the resources to manage the "I" in CIO... that is Information. Probably, the main focus has been on systems and the infrastructure supporting the business. However, the focus on knowing the organizations information, what is important, who creates and owns the information etc... is not as strong a focus as managing all the technology equipment.  Again, this creates two problems. One being that information is not known, managed or reliable. Two, shadow IT flourishes, because systems are not managing and supporting the information suitable to the user. Faced with the lack of systems support, the business units find a way to develop there own "work-around" or in some agencies they are funded to develop there own systems. And the cycle continues to grow and spiral out of control.

Information governance combined with a powerful collaboration tool like SharePoint can help manage your information. Without governance these collaboration tools can be the catalyst to fertilize existing problems. Information governance can drive and control some basics for your implementation planning.  Helping the agency answer questions; How much and what type of content do you have? Who will be using the content and what compliance requirements or regulations must you consider?

I would like to hear your thoughts on "Information Governance"