Home > ECM > Nightmare definitions: What is Information Governance?

Nightmare definitions: What is Information Governance?

Some concepts are extremely difficult to articulate succinctly. Not because we don’t understand them, but because they are just too complex. I believe H.L. Mencken said: “For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, elegant and wrong”.

Take the example of Enterprise Content Management. A 25-year old industry and a multi-million software market. Every few months, we will invariably have another debate on what the correct definition should be, what it encompasses, if the name should be changed, how it overlaps with other terms, etc. etc. Yet, most people understand pretty well what it is.

Enter… Information Governance

If you haven’t yet, please read Barclay T. Blair’s ebook: “Making the Case for Information Governance”. It is an excellent summary of some of the reasons why Information Governance (IG) is important to an organisation. The ebook focuses more on the rationale behind its existence, and much less on its structure and scope. The ebook also reviews some of the existing definitions of IG, by The Economist and by AIIM and proceeds to explain their salient points.

More recently however, BTB presented IG Initiative’s attempt to create a simpler definition, validated by a popularity poll and summarized in an attractive infographic:

Information Governance is: The activities and technologies that organizations employ to maximize the value of their information while minimizing associated risks and costs.

I have to be honest and say that I don’t like that definition. 99% of people would agree that “Fruit is nutritional, affordable and refreshing, and reduces health risks”. That may be a true statement, but it does not make it a good definition of what a fruit is! Ok, I am being facetious, but my point is: The broader the definition the less accurate it is and the less value it adds. The IG Initiative definition above, is both too wide (e.g. analytics and collaboration are used to maximise information value, but they are not in themselves IG tools), and incomplete (e.g. governance involves the people, not just activities and technologies; compliance is another key driver, alongside cost and risk). In my view, this definition, by itself, falls short.

I have to mention that several other people have attempted definitions of IG, and each one has its merits. The one offered by Wikipedia is not too bad, and there are others by Debra Logan at Gartner, IBM, and many other vendors.

Personally, I would err on the side of a slightly longer but more comprehensive definition, that combines the ones mentioned in the ebook and the new one by IG Initiative. Here is my offer:

Information Governance is a framework of people, principles, processes and tools, that defines why, when and how information is managed within an organisation, in order to maximise its value, fulfil obligations, reduce costs and reduce risk.

I would be very interested to hear your feedback on this.

Whichever definition you choose to use however, BTB makes a very valid point in his blog: “the definition you use is less important than having a common understanding among your IG team”. And you will probably need a lot more than 145 characters to achieve that!

  1. June 27, 2014 at 5:52 am
  2. June 27, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Reblogged this on infogovnuggets and commented:
    Interesting debate over definition(s) of Information Governance.

  3. Laurie Thomas
    July 17, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    I admit to being part of the 7% that didn’t agree with the definition. It’s the focus on “technologies” that I dislike. Technology is a useful tool (as per your definition), but it is not a panacea. I suspect most CIOs on seeing the IGI definition would assume that the solution to Information Governance is more technology.

  4. July 17, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    The definition does not say it is a panacea. It even does not say it is the only thing. People, CIOs included, are free to misread the definition all they want, but defining IG without including technology is simply out of touch. There is no way to solve the problems that IG is concerned about without using technology.

  5. Laurie Thomas
    August 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    I suppose this is why it’s a “nightmare definition”, isn’t it? I didn’t say that technology wasn’t useful, just that it’s one of a number of things that is. I agree that technology is an important part of solving IG problems. Identifying “activities and technologies” as the only two interventions in the definition however, is actually quite misleading. Surely the purpose of a definition is to minimise misinterpretation?

  6. August 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    I am part of the 93%! It is really important in an organization if you want to minimize trouble!

  1. June 27, 2014 at 5:46 am
  2. September 8, 2014 at 6:02 pm
  3. January 14, 2016 at 7:00 am

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