I met this grumpy fellow in Sabi Sands, South Africa, and took this picture with my phone (nope, no zoom… wish he’d been further away). The experience reminded me of the fable about the Blind Men and the Elephant, a classic allegory for how we often do not perceive the big picture, but instead only the part we directly encounter. This fable has become a useful metaphor for Information Governance. In so many organizations, individual departments and functions have their own, limited perspectives on information, seeing only the issues and objectives with which they are directly familiar. Limited perspective yields limited perception – not a good thing for identifying, understanding, and controlling organizational risk. Information Governance is the means through which organizations can bridge across such silos and perceive the big picture of information compliance, risk, and value.

Actually, I prefer a different version, restyled as the Blind Elephants and the Man.

One day, six blind elephants were in a heated argument about what Man was like. To resolve their dispute, they sought out and found a man. The first elephant “felt” the man and then proclaimed “Man is flat.” Each of the other elephants, in turn, felt the man, and they all agreed. The moral? Limited perspective not only yields limited perception – it can also lead to very bad outcomes.

In all of the buzz about IG technology tools, IG control systems, and IG organizational structures, it’s unfortunately easy to lose sight of the fundamental essence of Information Governance, which is the IG perspective. All else flows from this big-picture, silo-busting perspective, and without it, whatever is built or procured will not be grounded upon a sound foundation.

The Information Governance perspective is a ready-made, scalable resource. Any organization can make meaningful headway, right away, by simply adopting an inclusive IG perspective when addressing information matters, before investing in significant organizational changes and expensive technology tools.

What does this mean? Simply this – whenever (yes, whenever) any information-related issue is dealt with or decision will be made, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • What information is involved, owned by whom, and in whose custody?
  • What privacy requirements and risks are involved?
  • What data security requirements and risks are involved?
  • What intellectual property rights and risks are involved?
  • What records & information management requirements and risks are involved?
  • What litigation preservation and discovery repercussions and risks are involved?

I can’t think of an organizational decision related to information that wouldn’t benefit from this exercise, be it adopting a BYOD policy; or establishing an email archive; or reconfiguring external access to IT systems; or pushing systems or platform out to the cloud; or selecting vendors that will have system access; or outsourcing business operations to a service provider; or adding social media features to an intranet, extranet, or public website; or hiring personnel from a competitor; or acquiring or divesting a business unit; or moving the corporate headquarters;  or launching a web-commerce site; or engaging in big data analytics; or monetizing data; or adding Internet of Things elements to the business model; or… you name it.

Of course other questions could also be asked, and the above questions should include consideration of legal requirements, contractual relationships, and business needs. But the point is to make ourselves look beyond our comfortable silos, to see the big picture of information compliance, risk, and value.

Like many worthwhile things, this is simple, but not necessarily easy. We tend to shy away from questions we don’t readily know how to answer, which helps explain why we end up in silos. Answering such questions may require input from various stakeholders, with different perspectives, and their input will need to be synthesized to inform the ultimate decision. But asking these questions helps to pull into the decision-making process those who have a stake in the decision and its repercussions.

The Information Governance perspective, in and of itself, will yield better decision-making by the organization on any information-related issue or opportunity. It’s worth the effort to see the entire elephant… before anyone gets stepped on.