Information management can be difficult to sell. It shouldn’t be – the benefits are very real and are there to be exploited. The truth is, however, that during busy periods it can be low on the list of priorities for those who are in sitting front of computers creating information.
So the question is, how do you instil a culture of good information management, and how do you reverse the bad habits which have crept in during the digital age? This is the conundrum facing information and records staff across every organisation and, having spoken to many across the UK Government, one answer comes up time after time: Senior buy-in.
Senior management support for information managers is crucially important because to change organisational culture they need influence.
So taking ‘influence’ as the theme for today’s blog, I’ve drawn out for you a few key messages from some of the most influential people in the world of politics, literature and pop culture. Some of these individuals are fictional creations, but hopefully you’ll agree that the messages they can carry are just as important.
‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’ Sherlock Holmes – A Scandal in Bohemia, 1892
Sherlock’s message: The world’s most famous detective made a career from valuing information and making deductions, and even today decision makers need all the evidence before taking action or enacting policy. Information managers need to stress that information is a business asset just like the buildings, the IT equipment or the people. What you create may be useful to others down the line, but if it’s locked away in a personal drive or labelled incorrectly the potential value is diminished.
‘If records management policies and practices are not updated for a digital age, the surge in information could overwhelm agency systems, leading to higher costs and lost records.’ Barack Obama – Presidential Memorandum, 28 November 2011
Obama’s message: The ‘surge’ in digital information can overwhelm users as well as their systems, and if it isn’t managed effectively the volume of data may mean that you are unable to find it when needed. The US President also alludes to the increasing costs in long term storage, and you should remember that this cost can be both financial and reputational. To help mitigate this risk, you should ensure that you have oversight of exactly what information assets you hold, what value they have and how long you need to keep them.
‘Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.’ Spock – Star Trek the original series, “The Ultimate Computer”, 1968
Spock’s message: Technology should be used as a tool with which to keep information managed and valued, but only as part of a wider culture of good information management practices. Whilst EDRMs and collaborative working tools have become more sophisticated and widely adopted, they will not solely manage your information for you. Good information governance includes knowing how your technical environment supports your information assets, and instead of the other way around. Therefore information managers need to have the influence to be involved in discussions around the adoption of new technology or changes to IT systems.
‘In the years to come, people will look back at the days when government kept all its data – your data – in vaults and think how strange it was that the taxpayers – the people who actually own all this – were locked out.’ David Cameron, 6 July 2011
Cameron’s message: Information is power, and this power can be harnessed by the public through transparency. Proactive publication of information will increase accountability and complement the rights of citizens provided under the Freedom of Information Act. Technology has played a crucial role in changing the way we share and re-use data, and we have already seen the release of Government datasets through portals such as data.gov.uk. When judging the value of your information, remember to think beyond its internal uses.
‘Every time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain – remember that time I took that home wine-making course and forgot how to drive?’ Homer Simpson – The Simpsons, “Secrets of a Successful Marriage”, 1994
Homer’s message: To unlock the value of the information, organisations need to capture and manage knowledge in a timely and responsible manner. Technology can help facilitate knowledge sharing, but those who work in knowledge management need influence to drive a culture where colleagues don’t work in their own ‘silos’. Make sure that during periods of organisational change the corporate knowledge of your business processes or records isn’t forgotten – ‘old stuff’ may be important to understanding the context surrounding a decision, or processing information of historical value.
So there you have it. Whether in books, TV or real life, the value of information management is out there, and we’re working hard to support records management staff across the public sector in making their voices heard. The more influence they have in an organisation, the sooner we can build a culture where users understand their own role to play in the lifecycle of digital information.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any information management quotes to add to our list of influential individuals, we’d love to hear from you.