Lessons learned from 20 years of quality IM building – Part 1

Mark Atkins, Intraversed


Lessons learned from 20 years of quality IM building – Part 1

It's a bit of a hard-hitting moment when you realise you can look back on 20 years of doing something specific for a living – and I say that knowing the 20 years before those were spent doing less specific things for a living, that lead me to the specific thing.

That's a lot of years. And a lot of wisdom gained.

But the last 20 have done more than teach me some great lessons. They've proven the theories that I was formulating for the first 20 and tweaking in the second, about what really creates quality information management.

This blog, and next month's, will offer the best of that wisdom, gained through so many years of improving information quality across a range of sectors, businesses, business cultures and even countries.

Bottom line: There are core features of great information management that are consistent across all those diverse contexts. Ignore them at your peril.

Lesson 1: IM is not a set-and-forget activity

To achieve great quality information – and to have the absolute assurance that your information is great quality (not just assumed quality) – you must see it as an active, business-as-usual feature of your business. It is NOT a bunch of ticked boxes on an information management checklist.

Lesson 2: Information Management is a process

Building on the last point, you must see IM as an activity, not an achievement. It requires action. If that action stops, you don't have management. The required activity needs to be clarified and built into business processes and rolled out into roles and responsibilities across your organisation.

Lesson 3: IM needs ongoing participation and funding

To achieve the first two points, like anything else in a business, it needs to be adequately funded and promoted from the top. Without resources, it cannot be achieved. That's just true. You will not get quality IM without adequate funding and personnel commitment. And you're not going to get that unless IM is promoted and endorsed from the top of the organisation.

Lesson 4: IM is not DM

Data management (DM) is about how you collect, store, secure, use and discard the data you collect in the course of doing business. It's the domain of your IT department. It is not information management. IM is about managing the information your business creates using your data. Quality information does require good DM, but good IM is a different activity, with different needs and different goals. Do not conflate the two.

Lesson 5: IM is the responsibility of the business, not IT

Following on from lesson 4, if you want quality information, the information management in your organisation needs to be driven by and owned by business staff, not IT. It's the job of IT to find technical solutions to the tech needs and issues of your organisation. But IM is not, primarily, a tech issue. It may have tech needs, but the core work involves business process and business documentation, and that is neither the job of IT staff, nor something they're equipped to deliver. If you give IM to IT you will not get the quality you need.

Here's a blog we've previously posted in this topic.

Lesson 6: IM must be measured

The attractive thing about seeing IM as a checklist is that once you've ticked all the boxes, you think you've achieved it. It seems to be measurable and achievable. But this is faulty thinking. IM is a business-as-usual activity, that requires on-going processes to be followed, it requires participation from all staff. And, as with most management, it needs to be monitored, governed and accountability needs to be in place. All these activities can and should be measured, so that senior managers have visibility over IM. This is the only way to ensure you've got it happening and it's improving/maintaining your information quality. It's in this environment that you create the business assurance you need, by truly knowing you have information quality, security, and regulatory compliance.

Lesson 7: IM is built on three basic foundations. Foundation 1 – Culture

If you don't have an organisational culture that values information, you won't look after it well (i.e., manage it well). As we've covered in several previous lessons, this means adequate investment and promotion from senior staff, it means ensuring measurability and it means giving the right people the right resources to get the job done properly. Your culture underpins all this. Information should be seen fundamentally as a valuable asset that must, MUST, be protected and used correctly, in order to keep your business from risk, waste, inefficiency, poor staff satisfaction, dangerous business decision making and more.

Lesson 8: IM is built on three basic foundations. Foundation 2 – Language

It's not often seen as central, but a unified business language holds the key to ensuring reliable reporting, stabilising tech spend, and providing risk mitigation. It allows for clear, effective communication across the siloes of big businesses. It protects against unresolvable I.T. issues. And it's an amazing facilitator of collaboration and innovation across organisations. It's an essential part of quality IM and without it, you'll struggle to achieve the information quality you need.

Lesson 9: IM is built on three basic foundations. Foundation 3 – Artefact Management

Most businesses look to document management systems to “manage” their information artefacts (anything that holds information of value to the organisation). It's seen as an administrative problem. While such systems are necessary – documents have to be held somewhere – such systems don't provide the management we're talking about. Artefacts (which consist of more than just documents) need to be registered in a management system, designed to record important details about the information contained within the artefacts. This includes who created it, who now has responsibility for overseeing its quality and accuracy, when it was created, and when it will be reviewed for currency and accuracy (and when the last review took place). It needs the ability to record issues raised against the artefact, highlighting potential information quality issues. It needs to note details of the data used to create the information, and whether the information is fit for certain purposes. When connected to an effective business term glossary, it can also be incredibly effective as a tool for searching for information by business term. Such a system can link to the actual document, in the document management system, when appropriate or other artefacts in their respective storage systems. And it can record the references between artefacts. This level of information artefact management is central to achieving great IM, promoting quality, and avoiding replication.

Lesson 10: How you deal with information quality issues will make all the difference

This point is really a grouping of sub-points from previous lessons, but it's worth raising them as one here. How your organisation deals with information quality issues is hugely important. Firstly, you need an effective way for any employee to raise an issue. Often those charged with resolving reporting problems are too far removed for the actual business processes that create the information to recognise where problems lie – we've seen this a lot. Secondly, you need a culture that doesn't punish or dissuade issues from being raised. Raising issues must be seen as a vital and valuable activity, not one associated with weakness or failure, nor one that risks someone's professional reputation. You can only resolve issues when you welcome hearing about them. And unresolved issues (because they've not been raised) can cause untold problems. Finally, how you manage and monitor the issue resolution process matters. Accountability and measurability come into play here – tracking resolution to ensure it happens.

Next month we'll take a look at the lessons we've learned in 20 years of IM building from a different angle – that of dealing with people.

If you'd like to know more about how Intraversed can help your organisation built better quality information management, contact us today (link here)

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Mark Atkins, Intraversed

Mark Atkins

Mark is a co-founder & Chief Development Officer at Intraversed, helping organisations establish the Intralign Ecosystem, an award winning information management & governance methodology, to achieve reliable information, stable tech spend & greater IT project success.

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