Thornton May: The time is now for information governance. But do you even know what it is?

Information governance is fast becoming a required competence for IT -- even though we've barely become conscious of what it is.

At a series of university-based research initiatives and industry conferences, I presented executives with the following aural Rorschach

test: When you hear the phrase "information governance," what is the first thing that leaps to mind? I was surprised at the diversity of responses: analytics, business intelligence, compliance, data governance, data hygiene, defensible disposal, document management, e-discovery, enterprise architecture, enterprise content management, information life cycle, information risk (the risks associated with how employees handle information), machine learning, master data management, metadata, model management, privacy, records management, regulations, risk, Edward Snowden, structured/unstructured data, and famously breached retailer Target.

As that list suggests, information governance covers a lot of ground -- the entire spectrum of information management, in fact.

The real value of information cannot be fully realized unless data is properly governed. And yet, in many organizations, information governance is an amorphous, undefined concept. It needn't be. Here are three perfectly practicable definitions:

1. The activities and technologies that organizations employ to maximize the value of their information while minimizing associated risks and costs.

2. The practice of identifying the electronic content to be managed and how that will be done.

3. All the processes, policies, standards and tools that consistently define and manage the critical data of an organization.

But definitions don't drive behavior. And the existing frameworks, vocabulary and practices for information governance are tragically immature.

One challenge is that many organizations have erroneously framed information governance as a compliance issue, as if it were all about managing the information they're required to store and make available to regulatory agencies. A compliance mindset, driven by the fear of prosecution, results in reactive tactical programs that don't engage the hearts and minds of employees.

You can get on the path to effective information governance by answering four basic questions:

1. Who is responsible for information governance?

2. What are the economics of it?

3. What is being stored?

4. What should we be doing?

But answering those questions can be surprisingly complicated.

Take the third question, "What is being stored?" Information storage is a veritable gold mine of opportunity. IDC predicts that enterprise data growth will average around 50% per year through 2016, with storage costs consuming nearly 20% of the typical IT budget in 2014.

But the Compliance, Governance and Oversight Council has found that 69% of information in companies has no business, legal or regulatory value. Now consider that analysts estimate that every gigabyte of data that can be justifiably removed from corporate databases saves an average of $18,000. That gives you an idea of the magnitude of the information governance opportunity. And that is just on the savings side.

Information governance is important high ground that must be mapped, monitored and managed. IT leaders need to step up to this important undertaking.

Futurist Thornton A. May is a speaker, educator and adviser and the author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics. You can visit his website at and contact him at

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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