Information management

May 2015

Man holding graphic showing data connectivityIn this information age in which we live we have yet to arrive at authentic information management. With this in mind Dr C. James Bacon discusses information from a holistic point of view, namely the total information resource.

Information management (IM), as it’s normally understood, is really about the management of information technology, or perhaps data management and software tools. Similarly, the chief information officer (CIO) role isn’t really about information either; it’s about technology.

Although, when the role was first created following the 1977 report of the U.S. Commission on Federal Paperwork (chaired by Forest W. Horton and otherwise known as the Horton Report), it really was about the management of information as a strategic resource, rather than the technology management role it later morphed into.

What I want to look at here is a much wider understanding of information and a much broader concept of information management, what I’ll call authentic information management (AIM). Let’s consider Pareto’s 80/20 principle which states that, for many events, roughly 80 per cent of the effects come from 20 per cent of the causes so it wouldn’t be too surprising if just 20 per cent of all information in organisations is actually useful.

The rest is useless or less than useful. If true, that’s a huge waste of resources and a big drag on efficiency. Not only that, but the less-than-useful stuff is blocking out the useful, and this has big implications for overall, systemic effectiveness - not to mention people effectiveness.

For example, back in 1955, the British chain department store Marks and Spencer (M&S), undertook a famous information reduction exercise called Operation Simplification in response to rising overhead costs and falling profits. The well-documented end result was reported to have been an 80 per cent reduction in paperwork!

But the reduction in paperwork didn’t just convert into cost savings. It was also reported at the time that there was evidence everywhere of a hidden treasure of ability and creativity that had been unlocked.

An authentic CIO

So how much effort, time and resource is spent on data management compared with information itself? The former is easier to get your head around because it’s specific, it’s tangible, and there are software tools for it. Of course effective data management is vital, particularly for data quality, because it supports information reliability.

But it may be that authentic information management (AIM) is the next frontier in making effective use not only of  information and communications technology (ICT) in organisations, but also of information itself and as a whole.

So how do you go about enabling AIM?

The first thing might be the appointment of an authentic CIO, meaning that they will have overall responsibility for promoting the effective use of all information in the organisation as a strategic resource, with the present CIO re-named the chief systems officer (CSO) responsible for the overall management of information systems and business processes.

In some organisations there is now a separate CTO, responsible for the overall management of infrastructure. So what we might need in bigger organisations is (1) an authentic CIO in a staff/advisory role to the CEO, (2) a chief systems officer (CSO); and (3) a CTO. In smaller organisations these three functions would, at least, need to be recognised in some way. And clearly, there would need to be close linkage and harmony between all three functions.

Secondly, there are two fundamental information questions that an authentic CIO might ask and promulgate for everyone to ask when it comes to identifying useful information in the organisation

  1. What do you do, or what might you do, with the information - in achieving what purpose?
  2. What is the assessed or estimated net value (benefit less cost) of the information that you are getting, or giving, or might get or give - including your and/or other people’s time-cost?

Implicitly, business analysts and/or management accountants have a key role to play here.

A third thing that might be done is to address that ‘big bogey’ of information overload and its consequence of reduced people effectiveness, namely email. But a one-off exercise won’t do it. It needs to be ongoing, and the whole culture of the organisation might need to be moved in changing email habits, which means a need for (a) top-down governance and leadership, and (b) bottom-up and lateral collaboration and support.

There isn’t enough space to go into detail or justify them, but here are some ideas to be going on with:

  • Make it mandatory for (a) people to be email-free and text/phone-free when on annual vacation leave, (b) people to be email-free and text/phone-free with an ‘Internet Sabbath’ on Sundays and (c) incoming messages during annual leave times being met with an automatic response indicating: (1) another person suggested for contact if/as needed, and (2) that the incoming message will be automatically deleted.
  • Have trained email support advisors (ESAs) around the organisation, these being client-users who: (a) have good written and spoken language skills, (b) are good networkers, and (c) are well-trained in the features and functions of the email platform used.
  • Promote the concept of the processing burden, and the aim of minimising it (with the support of ESAs) by composing all emails to make them clear, concise, structured and relevant from the receiver’s perspective.
  • Following the example of total quality management (TQM) in business processes, introduce and promote the concept of info customer and info supplier, with the aim of giving and getting information quality and value in email exchanges.
  • Don’t check for incoming email more than twice or a maximum of three times per day, but put your normal schedule and response policy below your signature.
  • Make your general goals/aims known; put them below your signature, and of course keep them reasonably current.

The essential aim here would be to use email as the thin edge of the wedge in getting AIM off the ground and embedding it in the culture of the organisation.

SDSM: A re-think

Lastly, as for systems development and support method (SDSM), there might be a need for a re-think because, judging by the burgeoning literature and reports on IT fail­ure, the surveys indicating lack of joined-up business and IT, and continuing anecdotal evidence, things are evidently still not going as well as they might be - although it needs to be said that it ain’t easy to get it right!

Few people these days need to be told that IT and information systems (IS) are critical to an organisation’s success. The flip side is that IS, and the way they’re developed, can be deadweight for the organisation in terms of (a) fitting real needs, (b) the cost of these systems and their maintenance and support, and (c) their impact on information overload - and its potentially serious effect on people effectiveness and physical/mental health. But what’s behind all this?

Well we could start with the SDSM itself, the reason being that the SDSM and its people and organisation interactions can do a lot to either encourage or negate authentic information management.

So here are a few more ideas to be going on with (and the use of words here is important):

  • Above all, get partnership collaboration between the IT/IS function and client-users.
  • Dispense with ‘system requirements’, and instead use information needs.
  • Apply the above two fundamental information questions in an audit of any and all legacy systems.
  • Study the work itself for any new or enhanced information needs, and encourage everyone in the skill of business activity modelling in mapping and reducing the amount and complexity of work and its (superfluous) information ‘requirements’.
  • Bring in and/or promote lean development with its minimalist, waste-cutting, InfoLoad-reducing, net-value oriented approach to systems development - but make sure that it is big-picture oriented and includes the external view.
  • Make InfoLoad avoidance the philosophy of the SDSM, and put information value as the aim, right at the centre of the SDSM.

A lot more that might be said in recognising and achieving AIM, but these things will make for a good beginning.

Image: iStock/175861511

Comments (4)

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  • 1
    Richard Jeffrey-Cook MBCS CITP FIRMS wrote on 27th May 2015

    Information and records management and the associated discipline of information governance are well established. Most organisations are very poor when it comes to managing information.

    The benefits of effective information management are often intangible but substantial.

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  • 2
    Anonymous wrote on 29th May 2015

    Interesting points about the role of the CIO. I've been in a lot of businesses as a management consultant and it's usually the CFO who seems to be head of information in reality, IT are just for keeping the systems working. Perhaps CIOs shouldn't be linked to the IT department and actually be the main customer for the IT department.

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  • 3
    Rachael Levermore wrote on 29th May 2015

    Excellent article - some real things to 'take away' from this. Not sure I can see staff being email free whilst on holiday, that might take some getting used to! Thank you Dr Bacon for a thought provoking read.

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  • 4
    Tony Law wrote on 2nd Jun 2015

    Working for SmithKline Beecham during its lifetime from around 1990-2000 (from merger to merger), we were the Information Resources function. And yes, a lot of what we did was conventional technology management, But making the right information avaible to the right people at the right time, as a resource to the company, was the primary focus. Way ahead of his time, our CIO, I think.

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