Later: Double Speak for Soft Return

By Edan Puritt

To my shame, there were times when I thought I was too busy to do something with my kids, and I edanwould send them away with a promise of “later”. It didn’t take them very long before they knew exactly what later meant.

Most CIO’s have learned the same lesson. How many times have they heard there will be a soft dollarreturn on investment from some information management initiative? That soft return is their later.

In times of plenty, the fortunate CIO gets to do priority setting between contending business imperatives—almost as much fun as day trading in a bull market. No matter what gets selected, it will turn out well, there will be tangible benefits, and congratulations for being so smart will pour in from everyone.

Later savings = weak success on inducing action

But day trading in a bear market rarely turns out quite so well. And only a small digression here while I mount the soap box to say that the current priority on instant gratification for shareholders (see Marshmallow studies) will inevitably turn out badly for everyone, especially shareholders.

It doesn’t much matter whether the cause is shareholder activists who want their marshmallows right now, or an economy in egression (politicians don’t use the R word). Alternatively, the cause could stem from some bean counter who thinks all IM/IT is an expense rather than an investment, or some CIO who is more worried about their own payout than the contribution from them required. In the end, later just doesn’t cut it in today’s environment.

Besides, let’s face it, for most of us Record Managers, while we sing from the hymnal of Compliance, all the decision makers are hearing is a promise of salvation in the next life. Spend now, salvation later.  They are so used to us singing about Compliance that they rarely follow the lyrics anymore.

If we can’t make our case in real hard currency, then we are not ready to make it.  And while it may be a challenge to measure current inefficiencies and redundancies in real money, that is exactly what must be done.  Why? Because opportunities result from reducing those inefficiencies and redundancies.

Compliance tied to cost savings works best

We don’t need to use scare tactics about the impact of some future theoretical finding of non-compliance with a regulation (fines, embarrassment, share price, fire, brimstone, etc). We can use real data from our own existing systems to show exactly how much the current REAL cost is of the total effort in any business process.

traffic-lightsThere is a real cost to compliance, and there are real costs to demonstrating compliance.  Both of these elements together represent the total cost of compliance.  Can we reduce the cost of maintaining redundant files?  Can we reduce the cost of searching through files?

Start by determining the cost of maintaining a file.  One day we might even determine the cost of creating a file.  These numbers, in REAL hard currency give us the building blocks to determine total cost of business processes.  In turn, that gives us the data for making the business case for change.

The total cost will indeed be real IF we adopt efficient and effective processes and tools. That, in fact, is the story. It’s a good story, and one that needs to be shared.

So what is stopping this story from getting out there, from being shared? The simple and disturbing reality that IM/IT hias been absent from business value for so long that we have little credibility.

While technology most certainly began as a means of enabling business, it has become large enough, with its own appetites, that for many organizations, it insists on being fed, regardless of its contribution to the bottom line. To exacerbate this situation further, we Records Managers, think of ourselves, describe ourselves, and even label ourselves, as the custodians of information, rather than having a direct tie to the value of that information (business).

investmentWe need to rewrite that storyline. After rewriting our role, we need to share the story with our business partners: we offer real value and savings. Once they can see themselves in the story, it becomes their story too.

When we go to the decision makers to make the case for investment, we need to do this as the enablers of our business colleagues, NOT as their representatives. The business should be making the case for change, for investment, for return on investment, for a partnership with Information Management.

In the end, we need to eliminate all chatter of later and soft returns. IM can and should enable business efficiencies and cost savings. So use the language of ROI, because the return on this kind of investment will be in real money, now, not later.