Why IT needs to own information governance

TORONTO –IBM’s Watson supercomputer impressed a lot of people when it played the TV game show Jeopardy earlier this year, but in some respects its task was easy: answering questions by recalling trivia from its database. If Watson had needed to determine who was asking the question and whether they are allowed to hear the answer, Big Blue might have had to design something much different.

That, in a sense, explains the difference between everyday IT management and information governance, an executive told a ComputerWorld Canada Technology Insights event on Tuesday. While still an emerging area for many organizations, the increase volume of data as well as heightened concerns around regulatory compliance are driving more interest around ensuring data not only meets quality standards but has “rules of engagement” surrounding it. Often associated with BI, data warehousing and even master data management, information governance is really about achieving trust in the data you’re using across an organization.

David Corrigan, director of product marketing for IBM Canada’s InfoSphere team, said the rise of mobile devices, social media and cloud computing are all accelerating the need for more formal information governance programs across corporations. In many cases these organizations not only lack the policies around who should see what and how they can use data; they also fail to throw anything out.

“What’s the No. 1 archiving strategy in most firms?” he asked the audience. “That’s right – you leave it in place.”

Corrigan cited an information governance project that was happening several years ago at car maker Ford, where those involved discovered there were still information in the company’s system about the Model T. Although that data could be useful for hobbyists who need parts, other stuff in the system could probably be moved out of active areas, Corrigan suggested.  

Lack of information governance also turns up more sensitive information. Corrigan recalled a client in the wealth management space who, six or seven years ago, was trying to streamline the postal information it had gathered on all its clients. Among the fields in the records along with name and address, they realized, were social security numbers. “That’s probably not the kind of thing you want to show in the window of an envelope you’re mailing to a customer,” he said.

Of course, some companies are so mired in information governance challenges that they can’t really define what the word “customer” means to them. “It could be a prospect, it could be someone who bought something in the past but has been inactive,” Corrigan said. “You can spend a fair bit of time just having a discussion to figure those (definitions) out.”

IT leaders may encounter resistance from colleagues who feel they don’t have time to take on an information governance project, but the trick is not to take on everything at once, said Jorge Garcia, an analyst at Montreal-based Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC). “If you put forward smaller goals, you will have a better chance to succeed,” he said. Some organizations are actually borrowing from the Agile software development approach and executing rapid session to achieve milestones in a matter of weeks, instead of eight or nine months, according to Garcia.

The best way to get started on an information governance program, Corrigan said, was to look for a specific user experiencing a pain point, and work with them to secure buy-in for more over-arching projects. “Make sure you have a road map for phase one, phase two,” he said. “In fact, phase two can be more important, because you’ve already got some momentum going from phase one. Don’t rush to prescribe technology until you know the problem you’re trying to solve.”

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