Thursday, May 30, 2013

Information Governance “Eight Essential Steps to Attacking the Piles”

Maybe your Information Governance project is bogging down because you are solving a problem that your colleagues don’t think exists.

Do you know the Muffin Man and if you do, do you care where he lives? I know Peter Pan thought Wendy could fly but did Wendy actually believe it? What if the band, “The Who”, was called, “The Why”?

Anyway, I was listening to a “one hit wonder” radio show when “Who Let the Dogs Out” came on.   As I listened (though I wanted to change the channel several times), that got me wondering if “Who Let the Dogs Out” was really the operative question?  Was the song really about dogs that are gone? If it was about dogs, why are we worried about blaming someone for letting the dogs out?  Why not ask where the dogs went or better yet, how are we going to get them back? Further, do we really want them back?
 And that got me thinking about all the questions we ask on a regular basis that drives us to seek answers to myriad business questions. But what if the right question is actually different than the one we asked? The answer that we get is different than one we would get if we asked the right question.  And that got me thinking that we probably take actions based upon answers to the wrong questions all the time.  So perhaps we choose the wrong path, because we ask the wrong question to begin with. 

And that, of course, got me thinking about information sprawl and the piles of data growing unfettered all over every big organization. Why do the piles exist? Who is at fault? Maybe for certain business folks the piles were intended to grow? If not, how can we ensure that they are defensibly disposed when the information is no longer needed? In other words, why does the company allow the piles to exist? And then and only then can we really address the sprawl.

But wait, the right first question is, do the folks that create or keep piles think the piles have much value?  I assume that so much of organizational information overload is outdated crud. But what if others think it’s all valuable information. If they do and I am nonetheless right, I will still need to change their thinking before I get to my questions. Otherwise attacking their piles doesn't make sense to them. They will be hard pressed to go along with spending time and resources cleaning up the pile.  My questions assume there is lots of valueless stuff in the piles. Their perspective may be that the pile is all valuable.  So it makes sense to not assume anything and ask the right question of the right folks. 

And that got me thinking about planning my attack on the reason the piles exist. So here are “Eight Essential Steps to Attacking the Piles.”

1.            Who is your audience? Knowing who your audience is will matter for two reasons. First, who they are in the company or what they do for a job impacts how they see the world and the reason the piles exist in that world. For example, litigators see evidence and their inclination may be to refrain ever destroying any of it. To get their approval to cleaning house will require allaying their concern for destruction of evidence and the impact that would have on a case, the company and their career. If I can’t address their worry, usually all other efforts to get rid of information, even if it makes business sense, will be fruitless.

If I am talking to a project manager on a “Big Data” business process improvement initiative, that person will likely see the piles as being a treasure trove of valuable business information that can be analyzed, scrutinized, and monetized.  Getting rid of the pile will likely be perceived as making her job a lot more challenging and literally sucking the lifeblood out of her project.

2.            You need to answer whether or not your audience thinks that they own fixing the problem?  If they don’t take any ownership around the piles, then convincing them to take action is fruitless.

What if the person I am talking to is the head of storage and is under no compunction to care about making the piles smaller. First, she doesn't think she owns the information (which is owned by the business) so therefore taking action to “right-size” the pile is neither her problem nor her province.  Do you think she will like her budget being reduced if the piles are smaller? If she has 30% less data to store and 30% less budget that has real impact to her department, head count and budget.  She may not care whether the content is valuable or not. She cares about budget. So I have to know who I am talking to in order to speak a language that gets through to her.  Maybe cutting waste will provide sufficient incentive and saving millions will be recognized by the executives, but in the end, what moves the recipient will be directly related to where they sit in the organization and how they perceive the problem.

3.            Does your audience think there is business value in the piles? 

For data miners big is better. For the CFO, saving millions is a way to ensure longevity in his coveted job and provide value to shareholders.  For users they want access to their information and their instinct is always that everything is important. So first it is essential to understand that everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, has packrat tendencies. 

In order to take on house cleaning, there has to be a more objective way to evaluate information value to the enterprise without being clouded by subjective and personal opinions of individual employees.  If your organization has a retention schedule and the retention rules were properly developed then real business interest and needs and the true business value for the information across the organization should already be known.  And there is NO need to revisit business value question.

And that begs another very important question—if you have retention rules and are not applying them to various types of electronic records, does that undermine your records program.  Answer—you betcha. Which is Canadian for “You’re darn tootin”, which is Alabaman for Duh, which is American middle schooler for…You get the idea.

If you don’t have a good schedule then you will need to assess value in a different non-emotional, non-personal way.

4.            Do they think there is legal value in the piles?

Some lawyers want everything gone tomorrow and other want everything forever.  But in the end neither approach is viable.  So you have piles and somehow you will need to answer two questions before the lawyers will go along with house cleaning. One, does the pile contain any records required to be retained? Two, is there any information that otherwise still needs to be preserved for audit, litigation, investigations or other formal matters?  If the answer to both questions is no and can be demonstrated with sufficient diligence (hopefully without looking at every document), then the lawyers should be comfortable with cleaning house.  No matter, you will need to work with them A LOT as they are a nervous bunch.

Remember different lawyers see the world differently. Compliance lawyers will be thinking compliance with policies and laws. Corporate lawyers will be thinking business needs and maybe risk. Litigators are motivated by making sure the company doesn't get whacked in litigation for failing to produce evidence.  Revert back to number 1 above so you can speak to each group and move them by speaking their language and addressing their concern.

5.            Who owns the storage “parking lot” in which the piles are piled up?

Taking on the piles requires understanding who actually owns the technology and applications on which the content sits.  Does a business own the application and technology? Do all business units park data in that environment?  Will the technology owner be authorized to take action to clean up the content on their system?  Remember the owner of the storage “parking lot” is likely not going to be the same person who owns the records or content.

6.            Who owns the content in the piles? 

To make information go away, you will need buy in on agreement from the business folks who really own the information.  The business unit owners own the content and you will need to get their involvement in the process.  What do they need to hear, to believe that the piles can be culled of crud?  If they paid for its storage directly out of their budget would that move them to action?

7.            The next question is how to take on the challenge. 

Defensible disposition is no small task. It is dirty, complicated, and not without expense (with potentially significant savings). It requires effort from within and outside the organization. But different chunks of data can and must go away and each will require a different diligence process depending upon what the pile is, how old it is, whether it is subject to litigation, if it is being used for business, if it is technically disaster recovery back up piles, etc.  Remember you are getting rid of chunks and piles and chunks within piles not individual documents so making these culling decisions requires expertise and convincing lawyers that it is ok. 


8.            How can you make the case that the piles need to go away?

Information is growing at 20-50% per year if your organization is like others.  Businesses already are having a hard time finding information to run their business. Litigation response has gotten costlier and more painful—another data point to tell you information governance is broken.  Bad up front management means expensive e-discovery events will likely follow.  We have clients that stand to save tens of millions of dollars just through storage savings over the life of the project.  That seems like a compelling motivator for any executive. There are many more compelling facts that argue in favor of taking action, but they need to be tempered against real costs and risks.

There are a whole lot of questions. The place you start asking may be way too far down the road.  Assume nothing. Ask the right question of the right person. But ask?


By the way, “Why Did They Let the Dogs Out?” is a less catchy name for the song for sure, but it’s an essential inquiry nonetheless.