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PHOTO: Aliyah Jamous

Information governance (IG) practitioners (and I’m one of them) tend to think the world revolves around IG. Organizations should support IG best practices because, well, you have to have IG best practices. And end users should willingly submit to whatever process and technology changes are required to enable IG best practices because, well, you have to have IG best practices.

The reality is however, that other than IG practitioners, no one cares about IG. At all. Non-IG folks only care about doing their jobs, regardless of whether doing so conforms to IG best practices or not (and usually it doesn’t).

While this could be cause for IG practitioners to despair, there’s a way forward: embed IG best practices in things non-IG folks care about (e.g., other categories of compliance like privacy, InfoSec and litigation, or business goals like operational efficiency, sales effectiveness, cost reduction, etc.). Although embedding IG in this way will look different based on factors like your industry, organizational makeup and individual organizational idiosyncrasies, some general good practices can help you drive IG at your organization.

Align Information Governance Efforts With What People Actually Care About

The constellation of IG capabilities required for good IG is well known: establish information lifecycle management (ILM), reduce ROT, secure sensitive data, direct end users to appropriate systems (“what to use when”), define and enforce metadata, etc. But even if non-IG folks understood what these things were (spoiler alert: they don’t), the value these capabilities have for them is typically unclear. So best case scenario, they won’t care whether the organization supports them and worst case, they’ll oppose them, because enabling these capabilities will require changes to how they work. And end users hate changing the way they work.

So if you want to have a prayer of getting IG capabilities rolled out at your organization, you need to align with what non-IG folks care about … which will never be IG in and of itself.

Instead, what they care about are the things they have the funding for and the executive support to get done — many of which require (or at least can benefit from) improved IG.

For example, an operations executive at a utility company that owns power plants will be very concerned with the efficiency, effectiveness, and safety of performing preventative and corrective maintenance. She likely has performance targets related to reducing the time and cost of performing maintenance activities as well as the number of incidents related to them, and improving the effectiveness of said activities. Good IG absolutely impacts her ability to succeed along all these dimensions, but she likely has no idea how IG can contribute to her success (e.g., delivering the latest and greatest as-builts, up to date SOPs, or required parts lists).

An IG practitioner’s first job is to understand her concerns — what keeps her up at night. Then we need to search our IG toolkit to identify the IG capabilities that can meaningfully impact her ability to address what keeps her up at night. Finally, we need to communicate the value of the relevant IG capabilities to her so she can evaluate whether she should support them in the service of getting her work done.

Every industry has relevant examples. Regardless of industry or domain, the key for IG practitioners is to focus on the business problem to be solved — and then (and only then) to make connections to IG capabilities that could contribute meaningfully.

Related Article: Why Customer Experience Needs Information Governance

Piggyback Governance on Existing Initiatives

Once you understand what problems keep your key executives up at night and what IG capabilities could help address them, you need to find existing initiatives and piggyback the required IG work on them rather than trying to get net new, standalone IG initiatives funded.

Which isn’t to say the IG work you do in support of specific business initiatives won’t contribute to larger IG goals — it will. But it’s a different positioning.

For example, one goal of good IG is to manage information across its lifecycle, from creation to disposition. But good luck getting the organization to fund the dollars and bodies required to enable information lifecycle management (ILM) organization-wide. However, if your organization is subject to US or EU privacy regulations (CCPA, GDPR, etc.), meeting the requirements for managing consumer data to comply with these regulations happens to also support ILM for all data, consumer or otherwise. So supporting this more narrow, tactical initiative can support larger IG goals at the same time — a win win for you, your privacy stakeholders, and the organization as a whole.

Related Article: Use a Chatbot for Digital Governance? Why Not

Speak Their Language

In the final analysis, making progress with information governance comes down to forgetting about IG for IG’s sake and instead delivering it to address business needs. And doing so requires you to speak the language of the business rather the more narrow language of IG practitioners. 

None of this is to say IG isn’t important — it absolutely is. It’s just that non-IG folks care about non-IG things, i.e., the things that directly drive business success. So if you want IG to succeed, you need to speak their language rather than yours and deploy your expertise to solve their problems first.