Lessons learned from 20 years of quality IM building – Part 2

Mark Atkins, Intraversed


Lessons learned from 20 years of quality IM building – Part 2

Those wanting to implement quality and effective information management (IM) in large businesses often face much bigger challenges than knowing the specifics of WHAT to do (see part 1 of this series for those).

The bigger challenge is convincing peers and management that they need to take this path in order to successfully establish and maintain quality, effective IM.

Why is there pushback?

Ignorance and laziness are part of it.

Not wanting to invest the resources (which don’t look good on balance sheets as there’s no direct ROI – though we can prove there is ROI…more on that later).

Also, the enormity of the task means very few people want to take it on, or possess the qualities to do so successfully.

Finally, often IM gets relegated to the IT division, who naturally look to software to solve everything (which is not an effective strategy but it’s what they’re trained to do and, largely, what they’re hired to do, so it’s no surprise that’s their go-to answer. Still, it’s a wrong answer, and often an expensive one, especially when it fails).

Convincing all relevant stakeholders and decision makers to take a broader picture of IM, because it’s the only real way to achieve quality information, can be tough.

It entails presenting a convincing argument that the only successful IM approach will be a time consuming one that will cost more up-front than they’d like, must be an ongoing activity requiring with a sufficient and committed budget, and will probably need their attention more than they’d like to give it.

You can see why it’s not popular and rarely undertaken.

Thankfully, we’ve spent enough time doing IM in big businesses to have seen the benefits available when businesses do undertake it, when they resource it effectively and when they find the right staff and assistance.

So, for those trying to convince managers and colleagues to invest in real IM, here are our best suggestions for convincing them that it’s worth the investment.

Convincing Senior Managers & C-Suite Executives

If you’re faced with convincing your senior leaders that a full-scope IM approach is what’s necessary, it’s both the easiest and hardest of all.

It’s “easy” because these are the staff who are most likely to really benefit from IM done well – or moreover, have the most to lose when it’s done poorly.

They’ll have better quality information to base business decisions on. They’ll have visibility over the information quality improvement activities that can provide business assurance. And they’re the people who’ll have the assurance that regulatory requirements are being met efficiently and effectively – something that great IM can reveal and gives the ability to monitor.

But these leaders are often unwilling to know too many details. They want those lower down to handle it. “Just fix it” is more likely to be their response, rather than “help me understand so I can enable and support this process”.

Thankfully, a full-scope IM approach can deliver some features to a business’s information landscape that most senior leaders should find appealing:

They’ll get visibility over their information quality, issues and issue resolution. They’ll see the state of the business’s information quality and be able to see the progress to resolution.

It tends to reveal unseen revenue leakage, costly inefficiencies and unseen regulatory, legal and reputational risk. Even if senior managers aren’t interested in the details of these themselves, they should be very happy that someone is able to see these things so that action can be taken to rectify them.

It’ll deliver improved project success, stable tech spend, and create opportunity for greater innovation and collaboration across the organisation’s silos. It can be hard to argue that investment in IM that takes place outside of the IT department can lead to greater IT success, but it’s true. When your IM is solid, everything just works better.

It can reduce general expenses by allowing greater leveraging of information assets (avoiding replication and re-creation). This can be a huge problem in big, siloed businesses. An established and effective IM landscape includes a business culture that values information and has the tools to ensure cost-effective information creation and usage.

It also delivers a happier, more effective staff, who now have access to what they need to succeed in their roles. This is one of our primary motivators, because we think no one should ever have success thwarted by the inability to access the information they require.

Convincing IT managers & staff

This is another tough crowd.

Proponents of quality IM know that steering decision makers away from the idea that software alone can deliver what they need is key to success.

Naturally, IT look to software…it’s what they’re hired to do, it’s what they’re trained to do. But it’s not the answer. It can be a very costly, very unsuccessful choice.

There are good reasons for IT to support business-controlled IM activities.

Firstly, when IM is done well, IT’s job gets easier and they’re more likely to be more successful. Effective IM establishes a single, common business language across the organisation, so IT always understand what business staff are requesting. That means projects are more likely to deliver what’s been requested.

Next, that same common language saves IT projects time. There’s no more definition writing during project scoping. There’s far less clarifying what’s really needed and desired. And projects don’t need to stop mid-way through to further clarify.

Great IM also provides great visibility over the source of information issues. This is invaluable when things do go wrong – it’s make identifying the root cause easier, allowing resolution to happen faster.

Effective information artefact management means IT have access to documentation about the build and connection of data storage systems, even legacy systems. This can save a lot of time and support greater success when using data stored in those systems or planning and implementing transitions to new systems.

And there’s one final reason, which speaks to the principles of IT operations.

IT is there to support the business. The business isn’t there to fit into IT’s technology selection and generic models. Therefore, the better managed the business IM is, the easier it is for IT to identify and deliver the right solutions to support the business. Yes, this will save money, it will make software choices more successful, it will help business staff to do their jobs well…it just makes good sense.

A note on issues of authority and control.

IT often see the assignment of IM activities to business staff instead of their division as an affront to their authority over all things technical. This is a misunderstanding of what IM really involves. It can help to explain that IM is about business staff managing and governing (that means recording, monitoring and maintaining the quality of) business processes. This is neither IT’s remit nor interest area.

Assure IT staff that if/when software is required to assist the IM delivery, they’ll be consulted. But even this software choice should be business-requirements driven because it’s the business staff who need to use it.

Convincing business staff and mid-level business managers

Business staff are often the ones who are frustrated and most directly affected, day-to-day, by poor IM. They can also be the hardest to motivate because the bulk of the work will fall to them. And there’s no denying, it is work, at times a fair amount of it.

This is why we suggest a dedicated staff member to coordinate, and a percentage of formally allocated time from key staff members, particularly in the first few years of implementing and embedding IM as a fundamental piece of business-as-usual for all staff.

While the benefits to business staff are not dissimilar to those of senior leaders, what they’ll directly experience is slightly different.

A well-managed information landscape will deliver staff quicker, easier access to information resources, so they can do their jobs more efficiently in the longer term.

They’ll have visibility over the information resources of the entire organisation, so they can leverage usage and form collaborative projects with information owners. This saves time, money and energy.

Their IT build and reporting requests have higher likelihood of success, lowering stress, improving their ability to do their jobs well, and providing a workplace that doesn’t require large amounts of their time cleaning information or doing manual work-arounds.

On top of these direct benefits, our experiences is that most business staff are reasonable and altruistic enough to recognise the importance of a unified business language and an efficient information artefact management system. The benefits to others, if not directly to their own work, are evident and worth their time.

It’s important to note that while a business with great IM makes certain IM activities part of every employee’s role, you’ll need a group of committed people, willing to become the organisation’s “information management experts”. The workload falling to this smaller team is sometimes significant, and sometimes complicated. So choosing the right team members is crucial.

People with this more altruistic approach, those committed to the organisation’s success, and who have an interest in language, documentation of processes and cross-divisional clarity, are generally better suited to the task.

Convincing Data Management Professionals

While DM professionals may fall into the IT category, it’s worth drawing out some arguments for these teams specifically, because they’re often the ones doing the activities you’ll want to move over to the IM team.

One such task is getting business term definitions from business staff. Most data management professionals know they need the business to define terms, but it’s a constant struggle to achieve. A business with quality IM has an active, comprehensive business glossary, written and maintained by business staff.

Data managers also have the unenviable task of figuring out where data is, how it moves through systems, and where it’s ending up. In a business with quality IM, these data flow processes are documented and those documents are tracked, life-cycle managed, monitored for information issues and, therefore, always available.

Data managers are the ones tasked with hunting through the back end of failed reporting builds, to try and locate the source of the incorrect or unreliable reporting. Our experience has showed, time and time again, that the sources of big reporting problems often prove impossible to find. Workarounds become unavoidable. However, with quality IM in place, reporting issues are far less likely to arise. When they do, businesses have increased visibility over the sources of these problems. Very often, it’s not a data issue at all, it’s a communication and language issue – which is a load off any data manager or IT member’s mind.

In summary, people can cause even the best processes and endeavours to fail. You need to have a good, high-level buy-in, ideally across functional areas, to roll out effective IM for a whole organisation.

The good news is, however, that if you’ve only achieved buy-in from one functional area, you can still begin to implement IM in that area. As benefits becomes clear, expansion is always an option.

Need help getting IM update in your organisation? Why not have a chat with us and see if there’s any way we can assist you.

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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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