The increasingly digitized corporate landscape raises numerous information governance questions that must be answered...
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to both remain regulatory compliant and maintain business success: What is a record? What is a document? What is the object of actions taken to govern, regulate or assure compliance with a designated rule? How are histories of those actions to be preserved?
These questions are enough to drive many records managers to seek early retirement. But the answers to those questions are being authored and implemented within dozens of startups and disruptive consortia committed to transforming how we preserve the information that describes electronic data management histories.
Here is the key to understanding the transformations that are underway: Society values the preservation of history. Current and future iterations of new technology empower us to do more to preserve our histories and enable them to be distributed and accessed by audiences far larger than was possible as recently as the end of the 20th century.
The value of preserved data will be directly tied to how well governance is designed before the information itself is created. If we manage information only after the information has been created, the associated costs will ultimately overwhelm any of the data's functional and economic value.
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This is the essential lesson of the last 15 years of e-discovery: As businesses and governments embraced the efficiencies of electronic commercial practices, they overlooked the critical need to design governance into information systems and implement ongoing electronic data management policies. E-discovery, for example, has become a global, multi-billion dollar service industry. These costs were avoidable had records managers successfully designed and implemented e-discovery governance rules into the original process flows and use cases. Doing so would have eased the location of discoverable data in related systems, devices and applications.
EDI technology's continued evolution
As IoT, blockchaining and other innovations gain momentum, they are continuing an important evolution that began with the earliest generations of electronic data interchange (EDI): the "dematerialization" or "deconstruction" of a record. Understanding that evolution is vital to navigating the effects these innovations have on current and future GRC practices.
When EDI technology began, it was primarily to facilitate just-in-time manufacturing. Companies quickly realized that many business documents being converted to digital included redundant data fields. For example, there wasn't a need to duplicate the buyer's shipping address in every purchase order generated by the computers for each of a company's numerous daily deliveries. The messages evolved to include only the most essential, unique data fields necessary. The rest of the required data was to be electronically re-assembled into the equivalent of a paper record.
This created complications when there was a dispute or an administrative need to evaluate the history of a related transaction. Records managers, database administrators, lawyers and auditors struggled to bridge the gap between their expectations to find a single record and the harsh realities of distributed, relational databases, data dictionaries and software-based rules.
All of the information required was still preserved but not in the typical formats. New rules, including upfront process changes that addressed the functional and legal value of the electronic records, were required to unleash the full potential of related EDI technology.
This deconstruction of a traditional record structure, of course, was inherent to the success of technological advancements. Mobility and the IoT are merely extending the evolution toward creating smaller and smaller compositions of data, but with a new twist. With current technology, any stored information must be capable of two competing outcomes: a) deconstructing data into smaller and smaller units for it to be visibly navigated by the end-user on mobile devices and b) assembling data gathered from extraordinary volumes of devices to enable analytics.
In other words, current technologies are anticipating these changes and ensuring that data objects are capable of being assembled, gathered into data lakes, harmonized and analyzed across multiple relational databases. They are no longer considered separate, individual records but as a larger, singular set that can be analyzed.
The traditional mechanisms of managing information after the data has been created are again proving inadequate. Analytic engines require comparable data. Rules are authored that define what data can be absorbed, and data that does not conform is embargoed until it goes through the time-consuming process of integrity evaluation or is ultimately discarded. In other words, the value of the data as a history record disappears.
The electronic data management design shift
As technology continues to seek greater process efficiencies, it will continue this deconstruction of information assets. Blockchaining is moving quickly, with major banks and firms going full-bore to mature this technology. The same deconstruction is occurring, with the data of a specific record being further divided into "blocks." This technology then takes it a step further, enabling those blocks to be encrypted and distributed across a large network of connected machines to create a dynamic ecosystem of repositories. The integrity is mathematically and computationally assured, with the prospect that entire transaction ledgers and smart contracts can be preserved within the blockchain systems.
For modern information governance to be successful, it must connect to these technologies at the front end. Each block becomes an object to which the relevant information governance rules must be authored for and assigned to at inception. That way, regardless of the location in which it's stored, the data can be re-assembled and retain value as an authoritative record.
Businesses and governments missed their opportunity with EDI. They have been slow to change the direction of their ships responding to BYOD and are only beginning to move with greater momentum around IoT innovations. Now is the time to do even more and fully integrate information governance into the design of blockchaining, IoT and future technologies.
Read more from Jeffrey Ritter about modern information governance, including how new data classifications are required to maintain GRC and how companies must adapt as digital evidence is increasingly used in court cases.