What is effective information management?

It is essential to comprehend the difference between “data” and “information.” Data is raw and unprocessed and has limited usefulness. It comes in different forms such as numbers, words, symbols, graphics, images, sounds, and videos. It needs to be processed to make it into something useful.

Thierauf defines data as: “Unstructured facts and figures that have the least impact on the typical manager.” (Thierauf, 1999.) When data is processed into an understandable form, it becomes information and gains better usefulness. In other words, data is the raw material used to generate information.

The Information is generally defined as: “Organised data” (Saint-Onge, 2002); “Data endowed with relevance and purpose” (Drucker, 2001); “Interpreted data” (Probst et alii, 2002); “For data to become information, it must be contextualised, categorised, calculated and condensed.” (Davenport & Prusak 2000). Information therefore represents a larger portrait; it is data with relevance and purpose (Bali et al 2009). Essentially information is found “in answers to questions that begin with such words as who, what, where, when, and how many” (Ackoff 1999); “Information is data endowed with relevance and purpose. Converting data into information thus requires knowledge” (Drucker, 1990, p. 202)

These definitions point to the fact that information is data that has been processed, given meaning, increasing the knowledge of a person who receives it. To illustrate, daily measures on weather temperature is considered as data, when this data is used and processed we get information on average temperature for a given month, season, year, etc.


What is Information Management?


Information management is a field of expertise, a business function responsible for managing information through the lifecycle irrespective of source or format enabling organisations to capture, manage, store, register, classify, deliver, and dispose of through preservation or destruction. The question I often hear is, “Who is responsible for proper managing of information?! It is not our concern but records and information managers?!”

The simple answer to this would be: “Information managers and employees are responsible for capturing and managing information properly”

Since data and information are of great business importance, they should be considered as any other organisation’s asset. The responsibility of managing assets isn’t only organisational responsibility but personal too. This principle should be accepted across the board, from senior management downwards, or else any proposed information governance will just be words on paper. All employees are responsible for capturing and managing information properly and reliably. This is achievable by adopting the above-mentioned principle of clear policy that effectively provides staff-members with orientation on the importance of information. To fortify and implement this standard get records and information management into the organisation’s strategic and corporate plans, followed by proper information management training, focusing on theoretical and technical information management aspects.


The Value of Information


The Welsh Government IMA is a great example of this approach, they published a clear statement on their website, “The knowledge and information we hold is one of our most important assets. It ensures that the decisions we make and the advice we give is based on a robust bank of evidence. Managing and protecting this information – particularly if it is sensitive or personal – is an important part of our role as civil servants.”

Similarly, Gartner published in its CIO Alert, “The Need for Information Professionals,” where the fundamental conclusion was, “The vast majority of organisations see the need to manage information as an enterprise resource rather than in separate “silos,” departments or systems, but they don’t know how to begin to address the challenge, as it is so large…”


What is Information Governance (IG)?


Generally, information governance consists of applying policies, procedures, processes and controls, and assigning roles and tasks to guarantee business information is managed as a valued company asset. The above mentioned, can measure the significance of information and records in the organisation. It requires directives to make strategy clear and deliver concise instructions to staff.

When it comes to implementing information management principles, a proper roadmap consisting of the following is crucial:

  1. Project team. As for every project, appoint a project team, project manager and a project board and define the key roles. Try to include executive management, IT professionals, and librarians as well as business units representatives. I recommend following PRINCE 2 methodology, but any other accredited and recognised methodology could be used. It will help you streamline and control project work.
  2. Analyse, assess and identify gaps in your current system. Assess the current state of information quantity (paper, electronic and other formats); information governance in place – standards, policies, procedures, SOPs; the systems in place – how they are used and staff skills in regard to IM. Additional information can be obtained by interviewing staff or by an online survey. This will ensure that all staff have a chance to contribute to the development of an effective information management program and reach the state you wish to achieve.
  3. Improvement of IG. Utilise your findings by concentrating on effective information governance structure, by applying policies, procedures, processes and assigning roles and tasks to guarantee business information is managed as a valued company asset. The following should be taken into consideration: the creation and capture of records, metadata, monitoring, disposal, storage and control, transfer of archives, access to records and information, security of information, tracking, audit events, chain of custody, retention and disposition, information management services, accountability, vital records and business continuity. By properly implementing this strategy the organisation saves money, time, improves knowledge sharing and business processes and diminishes the risk of litigation.
  4. Standards and Practices. Going along with ISO International Standards is safer and will spare you a great deal of time and problems. “For business, they are strategic tools that reduce costs by minimising waste and errors, and increasing productivity.” (iso.org) Simply, “a standard is a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.“ (iso.org)
  5. Evaluate if your organisation is ready for EDRMS (electronic document and records management system). Electronic document and records management is a computerised system which maintains the creation, receipt, use, maintenance and retention or disposal of paper or digital documents and records assisting the business’s workflow processes. Many of today’s records start out in electronic form and physical records also get digitised. There are many EDRM systems to choose from, a vast variety of business requirements to fulfill, and difficult organisational matters to target and discuss. There are a great numbers of benefits in adopting and implementing EDRMS strategy, however within an organisation some functional groups might be at different stages of EDRM readiness. Too early adoption of this methodology can lead to users’ dissatisfaction and project failure. Before moving to this step, take the following points into consideration:
  • Do we have in-house expertise for EDRMS rollout or do we need to outsource?
  • Check deployment considerations, readiness for change and transition.
  • Assess current IT technical infrastructure.
  • Software concerns, server size, configuration, number of users, licences, integration, migration, performance.
  • Business classification schemes, taxonomies, file plans, security and access, roles and functions.
  • Skills development and training; in-house, outsourcing.
  • Last but not least, sources of funding, pricing and budgetary constraints.
  1. Action plan and strategic objectives. Based on your analysis develop the action plan and goals. Be smart and create S.M.A.R.T. goals. This methodology will help you in setting up the goals that are: Specific – aim at a precise area for improvement; Measurable – measure or propose an indicator of progress (how will you know when the goal is reached); Achievable – make a plan, state what results can realistically be accomplished, given available resources; Realistic – Objectives can be achieved in the set timeframe; Time-related – Specify realistic time frame or deadline for achieving your goal.
  2. The Best Solution. Aim to integrate records and information management into work processes, systems and services by implementing scalable records and information solutions that easily adapt to ongoing business requirements. It has to provide concrete and evident benefits and should not interrupt daily business. A selling-point to stakeholders would be that accurate, trustworthy and relevant information can be provided in a timely manner which will improve business processes, effectiveness, and quality as well as fulfilling ever-growing demands for standards compliance.
  3. Communication. Green light approach. In addition to the senior management blessing and approval, at this stage it is important to present your plan and objectives to all employees. This can be done via an online survey, presentation, intranet announcement or by email. It will make sure that everybody knows what work is to be done and what are the anticipated results. In return, you will receive useful feedback that will help you fine-tune your plan and “authorise” it with staff.
  4. Implementation. The implementation should be fairly easy at this stage. The carrying out is done by records and information managers but I recommend educating and appointing informal records and information focal points throughout the organisation. The IM focal points can contribute to timely implementation and user adoption.
  5. Monitoring and Quality Assurance & Control. Running regular audits and checks will ensure that the IM strategy is followed, otherwise all your efforts and costs would be in vain. This will encourage employees at all levels to take control of their records and information and operate in a safe, secure, organised, efficient and user-friendly environment.
  6. Re-evaluate. Records and information management is a dynamic and expanding discipline and organisational function and your IM strategy should receive a major re-evaluation annually. Within a year many parameters that you considered in designing your IM plan might not be valid. Re-assessing will give you an opportunity to critically evaluate your own strategy, and reflect what does and doesn’t work. At the end, as a professional, accept your successes and failures, learn from them and ensure continuous improvement in your line of work.



About the author: 

Ertan Čako, Records and Information management practitioner, EDRMS trainer, cert. Project manager and cert. Trainer generalist, with extensive progressively responsible professional experience on international and national level in developing and implementing strategies to attain operational efficiency and compliance to relevant legislation, policies and strategies, using technological advances to a maximum advantage. The professional experience has been gained while working for: International Criminal Court (ICC), United Nations Special Tribunal STL, Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Industry (OPCW), International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), United Nations DPKO and private sector. www.linkedin.com/in/ertancako / ertan.cako@rimconsulting.nl / www.rimconsulting.nl

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