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Reflections on InfoGovCon 2014

How information governance (IG) is different today, and how to get from 1999 IG to 2019 IG.

Here are what we might call 2014 and 2019 information governance (IG) problems:

  1. The digital landfill problem. You may have 50, or 100, or 1,000 TB of documents all over the place in your various systems. Some of you are approaching 10,000 TB (aka 10 petabytes). How do you sort through it and responsibly retain or dispose appropriately, given your budget constraints?
  2. The “systems of engagement” fragmentation problem. How do you do IG on your dynamic, sometimes chaotic, “systems of engagement” (SOEs)? They use social media, mobile devices, and the cloud. You may be feeling your way with some deliberate initiatives to move your business forward with these new technologies, but they’re also growing organically within and outside your organization. So your problem has three parts: A) How do you meet your IG demands with your internal use of systems of engagement which you use for collaboration, interactive community building, etc.? B) How do you meet your IG demands with your use of external SOE beyond the firewall, with customers, vendors, and the public? And C) How do you meet your IG demands in how you’re integrating your evolving SOE into your more mature systems of record, which help to run your core, line-of-business processes?
  3. The discovery problem. How do you prepare for and respond to litigation and other discovery, given #1 and #2 above?

Most of today’s commonly adopted IG technologies (though not, of course, the fine sponsors of InfoGovCon) and practices would fail for records management (RM) and IG in 1999 – forget about 2004, 2009, 2014, or 2019. To pick one example, take a look at most of the complaints about SharePoint’s adequacy for enterprise RM. The list includes usability in every RM activity, such as:

  • The dilemma that while a separate records repository – a “Records Center” – is untenable for the enterprise, going without one makes it almost insurmountable to get the RM job done
  • The unwieldiness of administering “types” (records series, classes, etc.)
  • The difficulties in getting either humans or machines to reliably declare and classify, etc.

But these are old RM problems. They were some of the big problems back in 1999 for electronic RM. If you were around back then, think about what electronic RM problems you wanted to tackle.
These probably included:

  • Managing the electronic analogs of the documents your paper RM program had been managing. These were the high-value, high-risk, highly manageable documents you were already managing in paper according to your retention schedule.
  • Managing the electronic documents, some of which were records, that were authored or modified by knowledge workers using Microsoft Office and email.
  • Managing electronic documents that were of lesser value, risk, and manageability than #1 above, or were of possibly high value and risk – but were mixed in with a lot of lower value and risk documents. So part of the challenge was sorting the haystack.
  • Managing email, particularly the email messages and attachments that qualified as records, being of high value and risk.

These are all 1999 IG problems. They all increased in magnitude by 2004 — with more records, desktop-authored documents, junky documents, and email — and there were some additional problems. Some of these additional problems were caused by the solutions themselves. Most of the email management solutions that were deployed in the early 2000s weren’t able to scale or provide fast reliable access to the archived emails and attachments. The result: Many users defected and redoubled their efforts at squirreling away messages and personal email archives, thus rendering disposition impossible. Other new problems arose because of new technologies, e.g. the Internet.

For a first approximation, we might divide the history of IG into the history of five periods and the kinds of problems they face:

  1. Pre-1999 (predominantly paper RM)
  2. 1999 (the four problems outlined above; also “EDMS”)
  3. 2004 (the magnification of the four problems, plus the Internet; also “ECM”)
  4. 2014 (the magnification again of the preceding, plus the SOE-caused fragmentation problem and the digital landfill)
  5. 2019 (the magnification of the preceding, plus expected and surprising disruptions)

Most organizations – really – are somewhere around 1999 when it comes to IG. IG gets interesting because today we don’t have the luxury of stepping through each period sequentially. We must address 2014 challenges like the fragmentation problem and the digital landfill, while also trying to speed through the last 15 years or so.