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Q&A: Adapting data governance strategies to the digital age

Data governance expert Jeffrey Ritter discusses how incorporating modern information management best practices can improve overall business processes.

Companies rely on information to complete most vital business processes: asset performance, risk management and strategic planning all require effective data governance strategies to be successful. Some organizations, however, are still using outdated data governance strategies in the digital age, according to information management expert Jeffrey Ritter, Esq.

Jeffrey RitterJeffrey Ritter

Organizations that recognize the connection between modern data governance best practices and business success reap numerous benefits -- including a huge boost to the bottom line, Ritter said. In this Q&A, Ritter discusses strategies to improve this connection and how doing so can improve a business's overall management activities.

You often call out 20th century information management strategies for not producing digital information that 21st century companies require to be competitive. What key indicators show that the "tried and true" data governance strategies are not working?

Jeffrey Ritter: There are three indicators that I have identified when talking to clients and information management professionals. The first is the lack of spending by corporations on new technology. The flood of data is overwhelming businesses, but instead of investing in new infrastructure, they're continuing to try to patch and repair 20th century models of records management practices, rather than trying to deal with digital information.

Second, what we are seeing in this mass of data is the continued dominance of unstructured data. All information in digital form can be structured, but it requires investment to support that. Rather than putting in place the architecture and tools to enable automated structuring of data, we're actually seeing alternative, lower cost investments -- just trying to find stuff within that mass of data without making the right investment.

Use computers to measure the time it takes to find information, and assign costs to that time to show where your governance creates lower expenditures.

Jeffrey Ritter

Third is an interesting development, where we are seeing the technology community develop standards and publish best practices that displace the roles of lawyers and legal compliance executives. The best example of this is a new British standard on the admissibility and weight given to digital evidence in courtrooms that was developed without legal input by the technology community.

These three markers indicate that information governance requires something more, and it requires changing the dialogue and the objective for how information governance is designed and executed within any company.

How is information governance different? Can information governance connect with and be blended into overall business goals?

Ritter: Information governance is defined by rules. Information governance involves, as does any governance, applying rules and behavior and indicating form of conduct. Therefore, information governance is the rules-based management of digital information to create wealth for the company. For years we focused on records management as improving compliance or reducing litigation costs, but what information governance can do differently is connect to the primary objective of the companies existence: to create new wealth.

Information governance works when you can make that connection and demonstrate that by improving the governance of data, you can actually enable the company to do better work, and faster, [and] to create higher revenue.

Who needs to be the champion for information governance inside a company? Where should data governance strategies have their home?

Ritter: The best champion is the CEO. When the senior leadership of a company gets the value of information governance, the CEO can provide the motivation and the guidance to make information governance investments. The CEO has leadership responsibilities for the physical assets, for the financial assets -- that's what his or her job is. But, in reality, it's often unclear where digital information should be managed as part of the organizational structure.

Different companies have placed it in different locations -- legal, the CIO, the CFO, but rarely is it connected up so that the progress on governance is visible to and will be owned by the CEO. That's always the best recommendation.

Are there specific metrics that help determine the effectiveness and ROI of the new information governance/business strategy integration efforts?

Ritter: There certainly are. What the computer grid infrastructure any company is generating every day is innumerable metrics of managing information. You just need to apply it to the information governance objective. For example, if information governance is strengthened, information can be found more quickly. You can actually use computers to measure the time it takes to find information and assign costs to that time to show where your governance creates lower expenditures.

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The area that is fascinating to look at is the velocity of information. Virtually any business transaction requires the exchange of information -- not only exchanging it, but validating the information.

The velocity of transactions improves when the information not only gets to where it needs to be faster, but there are also less questions about its reliability. Imagine a merger and acquisition, for example, where the review team takes four weeks to evaluate the integrity of the information that is made available.

That is four weeks that the profit potential of the merger is being deferred. That's one of the things we look at to show new sources of wealth creation that have not previously been available in information governance.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, site editor. For more regulatory compliance news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ITCompliance.

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Does your organization benefit from connecting information governance best practices with overall business goals? If so, how? If not, why not?