The link between business and information technology is the data, information, and process assets that are stored and automated through technical tools. This blog suggests the first steps toward governing and managing these important assets before tool implementation, helping to avoid the too common “graveyards” of expensive, underused tools.

Identify business critical information and data

In order to get past the confusion of rapidly evolving types, formats, risks, and tools, first identify the most important information and data assets for your organization and start treating them like assets. These assets may already be known but not documented, or identifying them may require chartering and funding a project. Critical information and data assets vary widely across organizations and departments. They need to be based on the core products, expertise, and risks of an organization, which also may need to be identified. For example, data from production machinery and its interpretation could be an unrecognized competitive asset. In other cases, information and data may not yet be regarded as critical assets, but regulatory scrutiny may be about to change that perception.

The identification and listing of important information and data assets should include brief descriptions, the most recent owner, and a relative value. This high level overview is intended to enable discussions about assets, prioritization of work and investments, and the creation of general policies. It should not be confused with the detailed, time-consuming asset management inventories for which records managers and librarians are trained. It is, however, the first step toward governance and “thoughtful localization and organization,” proven techniques which can later be the basis for advanced management techniques such as developing and using metadata, taxonomies, and controlled vocabularies. The overview can employ simple, existing tools such as a spreadsheet or database that can aid in analysis and produce reports.

The first goal is to initiate discussions about how information and data assets support organizational strategies and to determine what governance and management programs are needed. Governance is the exercise of control over multiple operations through accountability frameworks and priorities. It may take some time to build out all the needed policies and measurements regarding decision rights, alignment, and communication, but the discussions will get the work started. Management, which is the exercise of control over day-to-day operations, decisions, work, people, or things, will come later and will comply with governance policies.

Assign an Information and Data Governance Focal Point

Responsibility for information and data governance needs to be assigned if progress is expected, even if the organization is not ready to fund a full-scale program. A part-time person can be responsible for the information and data asset list, act as an authenticating gatekeeper for changes, and make sure that it is discussed at appropriate high-level meetings. With a little bit of additional time the assignee could set up and publicize a mail box or shared site for collecting issues, ideas, and needs, compile them, and recommend projects that are worthy of investment.

Further Steps

The steps above are the beginning and will help to determine where effort, investment, and tools can be justified and what should be accomplished. Much additional work is needed to realize more significant competitive advantages, provide complete functional requirements for tools, and meet regulatory requirements.

Keeping in mind the principle that information is best understood and used by its primary users, governance, standardization, normalization, and coordination may be needed across departments to achieve strategic quality and integrity goals. In addition, specific, detailed, ongoing programs and organizations may be needed for information and data management, funded to evolve, grow, and change as uses, formats, and values fluctuate with business and regulatory changes.

Incrementally, over time, or as the result of concentrated, planned projects, a deeper understanding of needs can be achieved, and more advanced management techniques can be justified, funded, and adopted. Examples include more advanced techniques for asset valuation, cooperative metadata and vocabulary adoption and use, development of competitive information and data techniques, and strategic asset based service level agreements with vendors and operating level agreements with internal groups.

In most cases, over time, it will be beneficial to incorporate principles, standards, and best practices from a variety of complementary disciplines which have found successful ways to deal with the issues – records management, information science, library science, ISO, ANSI, related industries, project management, organizational change, and COBIT and ITIL frameworks for IT governance and management.

Watch future blog postings for more details on this subject.

Judith Gerber (guest blogger), JGG Enterprises

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in taxonomies, metadata, and semantic enrichment to make your content findable.