Given the mind-numbing ubiquity of big data, intelligent analytics, the semantic web, blah blah blah, the title of this post may seem not only overly provocative but outright wrong. And while it definitely is the first, it most certainly is not the second.

Hopefully a short digression down corporate memory lane will help explain what I mean, and then I can turn to explain in more detail what I mean when I say that nobody really cares about information management.

So let’s consider a parallel moment of buzz in U.S. corporate history to hopefully shed some light on the situation we face today with the buzz around information management.

Made in Japan

In the late 1970s, U.S. manufacturers were getting handed their hats by Japanese manufacturers measured by any and every metric you’d care to observe. But if you had asked U.S. manufacturers at the time whether they cared about and were working to improve basic manufacturing competencies (things like cost, quality, supply chain elasticity, etc.), I bet every single one would have told you that they were focused intently on all of them.

So why the disconnect between intention and results among U.S manufacturers in the 1970s?

Without getting into a debate about the history of U.S. manufacturing, I suggest there were two causes. First, I would propose that U.S. manufacturers didn't care about basic manufacturing competencies -- I mean really care about them beyond just lip service, i.e., enough to pay up to improve them -- because for decades they had little to no real competition outside our borders.

Shortly after they began to face real international competition (with all the associated factors related to cost arbitrage, e.g., labor pricing and availability, taxes and tariffs, exchange rates, etc.), U.S. manufacturers began to care about basic manufacturing competencies; however, this is where the second cause comes into play: U.S. manufacturers didn’t really understand basic manufacturing competencies properly -- it would take roughly a decade for them to fully internalize what the Japanese had discovered and begin operating in accordance with these principles.

Lost in the Wilderness

I would argue that we’re in an analogous situation in regards to information management, except that there is no Japan to lead the way with proven best practices. Organizations the world over, across all industries, are struggling to solve basic information management problems.

And while a small percentage of organizations have made good progress solving these problems (and reaping the benefits associated with doing so), the vast majority of organizations -- at least the ones I come across in my day-to-day work -- are only beginning to understand the full extent of these problems … and are years away from solving them.

Given this diagnosis, let’s take a look at some of the key challenges facing organizations as they try to do in information management what U.S. manufacturers did for core manufacturing competencies in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Confusing the Means with the Ends

Information management is technology intensive -- so much so that we can lose sight of the fact that we’re trying to solve business problems by managing information, not simply trying to use technology to manage information.

A wise man once said about corporate strategy, that no one wants a drill, they want a hole in the wall, and this is just as true of information management: No one wants information management, big data, intelligent analytics, the semantic web, data warehousing, etc. -- they want to solve the business problems these things can solve and achieve the business objectives these things can help them achieve. That is, they should want to solve the business problems rather than simply implement technology.

Yet all too often, I see organizations spending time, money and resources to develop information management capabilities with at best only a vague idea of the business benefits and impact and at worst no idea at all. And whether this is because the CIO had money left over in her budget and so she used it to purchase a shiny new system or whether a business leader read in the Wall Street Journal that “big data analytics” is the new must have for leading organizations -- or even whether a CXO engaged in “18 hole architecture” with a vendor to come up with a cool new capability that the organization didn’t even know it needed -- the result is the same: time, money and effort wasted on building a capability, the effects of which on the bottom line are understood only a little or not at all.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

But even if an organization is clear about the difference between the means (information management technology) and the ends (business value and impact), there still remains the challenge of really getting to the core of how information management impacts the business and delivers value...and then communicating this to leadership to get their funding and support. And most organizations have done a poor job in this regard.

You can see the truth of this assertion in the gobs of soft, intangible, fuzzy-headed information management “business cases” out there.

You know the ones I’m talking about: they project that information management will save each employee X hours per week because they’ll be able to find documents and information more easily and spend less time on rework, searching, etc.; then they multiply these hours per employee by the total number of employees and then multiply that by the average cost per employee and, voila, INFORMATION MANAGEMENT WILL SAVE TENS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS EACH YEAR! THIS IS A NO BRAINER THAT ALL YOU CXOS WOULD BE CRAZY TO PASS UP!! And so on and so forth.

And, almost universally in my opinion, CXOs do pass it up, over and over again, year after year, mainly because they have a wealth of other projects to fund and support that have both direct and visible impacts to the bottom line and a higher likelihood of achieving their predicted results.

Compare the typical fuzzy-headed information management business case to the typical operational business cases and the difference becomes crystal clear: build more cell towers, expand a mine site, drill more wells, increase manufacturing capacity, develop more investment products, open more branches, reduce operational headcount, etc.

Like information management, all of these operational projects require an organization to spend money, time and resources; but unlike information management, they hold out a more or less direct impact to the bottom line -- one way or another, CXOs can expect more money when the projects are complete than they have now.

The Final Word

Ok, so much for my rant on information management and the failure of most organizations to care about it, understand it, fund it -- and ultimately, succeed at it. In a future post, I’ll quit my high level, overly general griping and offer some very tangible, very actionable direction on how to build an information management business case that isn’t fuzzy headed or soft and that can stand up to the hardest, most financially tangible operational business cases out there. Creating such a business case is no guarantee that you’ll get information management funded, but it at least guarantees you have a shot with your CXOs as they evaluate their total project portfolio.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you all think out there: am I right on target, way off base? Has your organization cracked the information management code and begun to address it properly or are you wandering in the wilderness with the rest of us? Jump in and let’s get the conversation started!

Editor's Note: Read more from Joe in Organizations Need to Rethink Approach to Records Management