- What principles to determine what needs to be controlled and what can be “free for all”?
- Should governance be top-down or based on consultation with stakeholders?
- Organising? Does it always work? There are cases where no organisation is better.
- What can we do step by step to make the new technology support our business and bring value?
What principles to determine what needs to be controlled and what can be “free for all”?
If we are talking about the governance of content, then it all comes down to purpose.
What is the purpose of the information? Is it lessons learned, training, or records? What is the intent? Is the information meant to be discussed in an open forum, used by a team collaboratively, or used as research? Is the information retained for compliance and subject to records management policies?
Most organizations have many different types of content with a designated purpose. Good governance should cover all of these variables and have a spectrum of control. Discussions, blogs, and other social communication are governed as part of the company’s intellectual property, but the governance is low and has more room for variance across the organization as this content should be easily accessed, shared, and discussed among employees. Contracts, company financials, and other corporate operational documents should be highly governed with little access and no sharing as there is likely good reason to have one official copy in a designated location. Again, all of the organizational information is governed, but the level of control within the governance framework is dictated by the nature and purpose of the content.
Should governance be top-down or based on consultation with stakeholders?
See the last question. Within a greater governance framework, the nature of the content will dictate the type of governance policies which apply. Corporate-level, proprietary information should be subject to strict top-down governance and control. Compliance is a legal issue and is not open for negotiation. While stakeholders should be able to make their case for access, there is not a lot of leeway for alternate treatments of the information. An organization with good information governance will set the appropriate legal and financial policies so corporate information is protected, secured, and complies with all applicable local, regional, and national laws. There is no reason that information of this type should be subject to alternative methods of governance at department or regional levels other than to account for regional legal differences.
Information on the rest of the governance spectrum should have stakeholder input because it is the information directly related to their work. All employees should have the appropriate level of access and should have a stake in good information governance policies, particularly in how and when information is accessed. Without their input, existing inefficient information processes are never brought to light, addressed, and improved to make the organization more efficient.
Organising? Does it always work? There are cases where no organisation is better.
No information organization is still subject to governance because it is no organization by design. For example, if a company decides to leave knowledge in an unstructured location such as a file share and offers only navigational access or access through a search interface with no other intervention or attempts at organizing the information, it is done so by deliberate design. Whatever the motivations—perceived lack of value, lack of resources, reliance on search functionality, etc.—the information is still part of a greater governance scheme dictating some information is highly governed and other information has very little governance. The governance spectrum spans the various types of information a company may possess and unorganized pockets of knowledge exist within this framework.
Of course, in a perfect world, all information is governed from its creation until its disposition, but we all know we don’t live in a perfect world. The amount of time, resources, and money it takes an organization to retroactively organize information usually has very little return on investment. Making the deliberate decision to only manage and govern content based on its value, creation date, or some other factor important to the company makes governance a more palatable proposition for subsets of the greater information framework. Sometimes organization is just not worth the effort.
What can we do step by step to make the new technology support our business and bring value?
The final question is aimed directly at technology governance, but technology is always part of the three pillars of governance including people and processes. You can’t have any one of these pillars in absence of the others. I would argue it is possible to create and adhere to governance processes even in the absence of technology. Of course, in the modern world, this is rarely the case. However, if you treat governance from a “neutral” perspective—in other words, from the point of view that governance must work regardless of the specific technology—then you can start the work of establishing the right processes and people to support good governance at any stage in a technology implementation. Establishing technology governance policies when the technology is new and before go-live is preferred, but not often a luxury most companies have. In addition to the essential change management necessary to get users to adopt a new technology, governance put in place in the beginning brings several things to the new system: trust and operational longevity.
Trust may be one of the single most important factors in getting users to adopt a new technology. When the system has the right level of governance and processes supporting everything from change requests to support, from flexibility to strict control where needed, from access to understanding how and why to use the system, then users feel comfortable and trust the system.
Likewise, good technology governance brings policies to avoid garbage in, garbage out, adding to the operational longevity of the system. When a system quickly becomes cluttered with poor information and information retrieval becomes more difficult over time, the chances the system will continue to be used and offer value to the organization diminishes. A clear governance framework for the new system will be essential to realizing the full value of the technology.
In sum, governance is important, and whether a company does a lot or a little depends only on purpose and the nature of the content. It’s not whether you have governance or not, it’s whether you have the appropriate level of governance fit to purpose.