I am an Information Manager. My friends and family have no idea what that is, or what I do. To complicate things, my fellow information managers describe themselves quite differently than I do. In fact, the fact that I’ve been doing Information Management (IM) for so long in so many industries and in so many countries has led to some amusing assumptions on the part of some of my nieces and nephews. The challenge to describe what we do as Information Managers is not about the generality of the description, but its specificity. Every single project is the same, but how we do each project is completely different. Why are they different? They are different because every single organization is different. Each one has different hierarchies, different decision making cultures, different levels of trust and collaboration, different words (languages, taxonomies), different leadership, and different people.
Compliance success hinges on the willingness to consume the rules
I’ve spoken at IM conferences and I’ve listened at IM conferences; I’ve shared lessons (scars) and advice (scar avoidance) with colleagues all over the world. We all say exactly the same thing, “Build compliance in to the actual business process.” And yes, we can substitute the more general, information asset management for compliance. But if “build the compliance” is the science of Information Management, then “into the business process” is the art. Ask any parent who has had to mimic a plane or a train to deliver peas on a spoon into the mouth of a one year old. Success has nothing to do with how well the peas are cooked. It’s all about the child’s willingness to consume those peas. As Information Managers, we need to take the science of the tools, rules and procedures, and then determine what is the best way to make that all fit in a SPECIFIC client site. Good Information Managers know how to keep up with the ever evolving tools, rules and procedures, and system changes. The great ones, on the other hand, have figured out how to take the pulse of the organization and understand how best to feed them their peas. This isn’t meant to diminish the struggle the average Information Manager has trying to get her/his organization to adopt even the most basic of information asset practices.
Compliance challenges bring a host of challenges
Organizations buy information. They pay for it to be produced. And they do that because someone, somewhere, needs that information. But all too often, the purchased asset doesn’t get to ALL the places it is needed, so it is purchased again, and again, and again. Of course, the problem of over-purchasing goes deeper: each instance is stored, and stored, and stored. Now, if the asset needs to be produced for compliance purposes, some of the information (who ever can know if it’s all) is gathered and handed over to lawyers to sort through, one by one. And, not all of those lawyers are volunteering their time. Our challenge with documents and records management systems is that as Information Managers we have been far too focused on the WHAT instead of the HOW of information assets. We think we need to help our organizations figure out WHAT information assets to store. Really we should be focused on finding out HOW our organizations share information assets. More specifically, we need to understand how the organization SHARES its assets, not how it stores them. The real challenge is to help organizations learn how to do something not what to do. The rules and lessons of what to do are pretty clear. If we simply add IM to an organization’s administration, it will fail. It always does.
Build compliance into the everyday business work process
One final observation, or pet peeve, depending on your view: compliance and rules. Until we resolve the dilemma that Information Management is something workers must do in addition totheir jobs, workers who do their jobs and are compliant are less efficient than workers who are NOT compliant! Why? Because for most IM systems, we ask workers to do their jobs AND be compliant, but we only grade, judge, and pay them on the efficiency of their job. We need to stop punishing those dedicated “under”-performers who choose to also be compliant, who put the company’s interests above their own.
Sharing is caring.
Keep this as the focus of the IM project:
- Are assets being shared (access) with the people who need them?
- Are assets being shared with the systems (interoperability) that need them?
- Are assets removed (disposition) once they no longer have value?
It is the how that makes each project unique. It is the how that makes Information Managers describe their jobs in ways that they all sound unique and distinct from all other Information Managers. It is the how that leaves people baffled about what it is Information Managers actually do.
Full circle: you keep using that word…
So, I am an Information Manager. For me it means I manage information efficiently, compliantly, and leverage it for as many uses as I can. I do my best to transfer that vision to each client, because at the end of the day it is always easiest to convince someone to work within the rules and practices of the relevant business or industry. Information Management. I know what that means for me. What does it mean for you?