Information Management, Records are Your Organization's Signal: Information Governance and Managing Uncertainty“Information is no longer a scarce commodity; we have more of it than we know what to do with. But relatively little of it is useful. We think we want information when we really want knowledge.”  -- Nate Silver, "The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- But Some Don’t."

I recently finished Nate Silver’s "The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- But Some Don’t." RIM folks: if you haven’t already, read this book immediately.

Although Silver is unfamiliar with our profession, he writes a compelling argument in favor of information governance. He supports the necessary inclusion and value of our contribution to organizational health and strategy. Silver advocates for regular inclusion of Bayes’s theorem in daily life to encourage more comfort with probability and uncertainty.

Risk versus Uncertainty

In 2012,

IBM estimate[d] that we are generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, more than 90 percent of which was created in the last two years. The numbers have no way of speaking for themselves. We speak for them. We imbue them with meaning … if the quantity of information is increasing by 2.5 quintillion bytes per day, the amount of useful information almost certainly isn’t. Most of it is just noise, and the noise is increasing faster than the signal."

The only thing scarier to me than risk is the risk I eventually realize I did not measure correctly. I can price risk. Uncertainty is risk that is hard to measure. Investing in information governance manages uncertainty. I can’t have a false sense of confidence and implement an electronic records management solution. Silver summarizes it nicely: “Human beings have an extraordinary capacity to ignore risks that threaten their livelihood, as though this will make them go away.”

A decade ago, Bruce Miller correctly predicted that we must execute our organization’s electronic records projects or we would miss the opportunity to make positive and significant impact. For those of us who did not heed his advice to enroll in as many IT-related courses as we could, we chose a high level of risk. We bet our professional future. We predicted that either we would witness the rise of the professional with combined IT and RM skills OR that RM and IT would continue to exist separately but eventually partner strategically.

The former has arrived. However, I observe an increase in partisanship within an organization lucky enough to afford records management, IT and archives functions. All three parties are busy asserting dominance without listening to each other. If this trend remains unchecked, it portends disaster for the fledgling position.

Hedgehog or Fox?

The Greek poet Archilochus wrote, “The fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” If we don’t embrace change and if we insist upon wearing the Records and Information Manager chapeau, we run a real risk of running with the hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs are type A personalities who believe in Big Ideas – in governing principles about the world that behave as though they were physical laws and undergird virtually every action in society. Foxes, on the other hand, are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem. They tend to be more tolerant of nuance, uncertainty, complexity, and dissenting opinion. If hedgehogs are hunters, always looking out for the big kill, then foxes are gatherers."

Silver points out that hedgehogs are specialized, stalwart, stubborn, order-seeking, confident and ideological. Foxes are multi-disciplinary, adaptable, self-critical, tolerant of complexity, cautious, and empirical. Foxes excel at forecasting. I equate foxes with information governance professionals.

Note: recently sent Business Insider writer Julie Bort a list of the top 30 words that will land an information technology professional at least a US$ 100k salary. Some of these keywords are very good. They convey a rich supplement to our information management best practices. We should borrow them. The words listed below will help us translate our skills sets to the right parties:

  • Big Data (analytics, in-memory databases, NoSQL databases and Hadoop)
  • Business Intelligence
  • Change Management
  • Data Warehouse
  • Lean Software Development
  • PMPbok
  • Project Management: Agile & Scrum
  • Scrum
  • SOX
  • Waterfall

They seem more “fox-ish” to me.

Information Governance Is a Dynamic Ecosystem

In this era of Big Data the question, “who needs theory when you have so much information?” is often asked. Substitute the word, “records” for “theory.”

When this question was paraphrased to me as recently as two months ago, I responded, “Records are the organization’s signal and the remaining content is noise.” As a former General Counsel once stated emphatically, you never need Records until you need records. Silver says,

improved technology [does] not cover for the lack of theoretical understanding…it only [gives] faster and more elaborate ways to mistake noise for signal.”

Unless real impact is made, the current rate of future tech adoption will continue to pollute the organization’s delicate information ecosystem. In fact, an organization is more likely to err based on the sheer volume of data available to it. A Records professional has never been more important or necessary than now. We separate the signal from the noise.

Title image courtesy of Eskemar (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more of Mimi's thoughts on information governance in This Information Governance Thing Might Have Some Legs #informationgovernance