8 reasons you need a strategy for managing information – before it’s too late
John Mancini

By: John Mancini on September 17th, 2009

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8 reasons you need a strategy for managing information – before it’s too late

Information Management  |  Document Management  |  Sharepoint and Office 365  |  Content Management  |  IIM x

Picture 632 A note:  we'll be publishing the 1st e-book in our "8 things" series on September 30

The focus will be the title of this post -- 8 reasons you need a strategy for managing information – before it’s too late.  This will be followed by additional e-books, with the second one focused on e-mail management.

To get on the advance PR list for the first e-book (if you're a blogger or a Twitter person or you just like to get cool stuff before everyone else), go to the 8 things link on our web site.  We won't do anything with the email except send you the advance copy.  I promise.


8 reasons you need a strategy for managing information – before it’s too late

1.  A tidal wave of information.

A study by IDC a few years back concluded that there are currently 281 billion exabytes of information in the Digital Universe.  So how much is this?  Well…an exabyte is a million million megabytes.  Thanks a lot.

To put it in a bit of perspective, a small novel contains about a megabyte of information.  So in other words, the Digital Universe is equal to 12 stacks of novels (fewer if the chosen novel is a big fat one like Harry Potter 6 or one of those Ken Follett Pillars of the Earth deals) stretching from the earth to the sun. So it’s a big number, whatever it is.

But I think the way to think about this is to note that IDC concludes that 30% of this information is business related.  And it concludes that the overall quantity of information will grow by a factor of 10 between 2006 and 2011.  

The point here is that it is not unrealistic to think that your employees – who currently say they are overwhelmed by the volume of information they must manage and who currently say they spend hours each day just dealing with email – will need to manage 10X as much information in the near future.  

How will they handle this tidal wave?  Simply extrapolating the current tools and approaches to deal with this tidal wave will not solve the problem.  A new approach is needed.  And yet many organizations are frankly in a state of “they don’t know what they don’t know” at best and a state of denial at worst.

89% of organizations believe that effective information management is strategically important to their future.   Over 60% believe that they could demonstrate that their electronic information is accurate, accessible, and trustworthy.   We know from close examination of thousands of organizations that the latter can’t possibly be the case.

2.  Ubiquitous computing.

In his recent book Free, Chris Anderson quotes a French economist from the 1700s, Jean Baptiste Say – “Supply creates its own demand.”

Anderson’s point in the context of information management is that the inexorable march of Moore’s law relative to computing, storage, and bandwidth technologies is rapidly driving marginal costs of these capabilities to zero, which is driving them to be incorporated into every facet of the economy.  

We are rapidly reaching the point, whether it is through the streamlining of PCs into truly mobile network devices (think netbook) or the enhancing of cellular devices into mini computing devices (think iPhone),where computing capabilities are truly ubiquitous.  Clay Shirky makes the point that technologies don’t truly become interesting and mainstream until they become boring, and we are rapidly approaching that point.  In many ways, the “fashion statement” of network and cellular devices (I think of particularly of the discussion with my daughter during our last phone upgrade) has become just as important (if not more so) than their technical capabilities.

The implications of this for organizations are profound.  Your people are constantly connected.  Your people expect instant connectivity.  They expect to work the same way sitting on a beach as they do in the office.  Ask them what their most important applications are and they are likely to say things like Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and Google Docs and Flickr and a feed reader.  Even if they have absolutely no malice in their hearts, they are likely to have organizational documents and information on their phones and on their laptops and on their home computers.  How will you exert some element of control over all this?

At the same time, the customers of all this ubiquitous computing power are likely YOUR customers.  And if not YOUR customers, then definitely the customers of your customers.  Do you have a strategy to capitalize on this potential?  Nationwide Insurance is currently showcasing an application for the iPhone in which customers can instantly report accidents and receive payment on the spot.  What is the equivalent in your industry?  Or are you just waiting for the phone to ring – and likely have an automated response system in place anyway.

The point is that the strategy that organizations use to put this ubiquitous computing infrastructure to use will increasingly determine winners and losers.  And if you haven’t made this strategy a priority, how can you hope to come out on top?

3.  Social everything.

I confess.  There is much that is stupid on-line.  A few minutes on YouTube can leave you shaking your head about the future of humanity.

But to deny that there is something important going on is crazy.  I remember in the early days of e-mail I had a boss who didn’t like it and couldn’t master the “reply” concept and used to just blindly respond to questions on email with answers like, “DAMN IT, NO” or “HOW STUPID CAN YOU BE?”  There would be no reference to the original question, which obviously left many of us in some degree of career uncertainty.

My point is that many executives have a similar “hands over their ears and eyes” denial posture now when it comes to social media.  "No, of course we can’t allow employees to access Facebook on work computers."  "No, of course, we can’t allow employees to connect on Linked In."  "No, you can’t have a blog; it will be a time waster at best and a source of competitor espionage at worse."

At the same time, consider a few data points:

  • In a sign that yesterday’s edge is tomorrow’s yawn, in 2009 Boston University stopped issuing email addresses for incoming freshmen.  The reason?  Most Gen X and Gen Y types consider email irrelevant (Socialnomics).
  • According to Nielsen, visiting social sites is now the 4th most popular activity on-line, ahead of personal email.
  • 34% of bloggers offer opinions about products and services – YOUR products and services (Socialnomics).
  • 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations (Socialnomics).
  • 57% of social media users feel better served by companies that connect with them on social media (2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study).

Developing a more strategic approach to social networks and computing is not easy.  One needs to have a thick skin.  But if it is not part of your information management strategy you will increasingly be left behind.

4.  Collaboration without governance is a disaster.

The New York Times recently ran an article about the wave of SharePoint implementations that are sweeping across corporate America.  Most articles about Microsoft Office SharePoint Services (MOSS) point out that its $1 billion in first year sales make it one of the most successful software launches in history.

Of course, SharePoint is only part of the drive to place corporate-hardened collaboration and social media tools on the desktop.  In addition to SharePoint, other products like IBM’s Quickr and EMC’s CenterStage and Open Text’s LiveLink and soon the Google Wave are sweeping through organizations, placing extraordinarily powerful collaboration and content creation tools in the hands of individual knowledge workers and project teams.  

Often, all this deployment is without a heck of a lot of governance or planning.  According to an AIIM survey, 57% of organizations lack an executive-endorsed plan for where SharePoint will be used and where it will not.  And I’m sure the same % would likely apply to deployment of the other tools listed above.

Let’s see.  This all sounds somewhat familiar.  What does it remind me of?  Oh yeah, 15 years ago we all deployed the most powerful document creation tools the world has ever seen to every desktop, without any thought whatsoever about what we wanted to come out the other end.  The end product for most organizations is a mess of whacky shared drives and nonexistent file structures and taxonomies and in essence a digital landfill.

So a key part of creating an information management strategy for the next decade is thinking through what you are trying to do with all this collaborative capability, how it will fit together with the other information systems in your organization, how you will find stuff across these systems, and how you will eventually get rid of everything that you don’t need to keep.

5.  The era of simplicity.

We have a toaster at home that purports to do many things.  It boasts that it is not merely a toaster -- it aspires to being a toaster oven.  It can bake things at various temperatures.  It can broil.  It has a timer that can go off at a pre-defined time.  It even has a little booklet to tell you how to use it.

Unfortunately, it also fails in its core mission – to toast.  When you put bread in it, there is no way to pop it up early if it appears done like you used to be able to do with a regular toaster.  If you put anything unusual in the toaster slot, it tends to slide down into the oven part, get caught on the coils, and start burning.  The only way to resolve this is to unplug it and rummage around with a fork in the toaster oven’s internal organs.

My point of this story is that the revolution in computing, bandwidth and storage is pushing us in two conflicting directions in terms of our information management priorities.  

One is in the direction of ever-increasing capabilities and enhancements and versions, many of which we fail to digest before the next version comes rolling out.  And which likely will ultimately require unplugging and rummaging around in the software’s internal organs.

The other direction is toward simplicity.  The best example – I admit I am biased – is the iPhone.  Who would have predicted that a phone with an entirely new operating system would have a chance as a mobile computing device?  Who could have predicted the thousands and thousands of new applications built upon this operating system?  Who could have predicted this enormous success?

Well, frankly, anyone who used the device and compared it to the alternatives at the time.  Even from the start, the iPhone was a pleasure to use.  

“A pleasure to use” is not the phrase that many of our knowledge workers would use to describe the information management systems that we give them.  It is also not the phrase that many of our customers would use to describe the experience of interacting with our externally facing web systems.

In Work 2.0 – Rewriting the Contract, Bill Jensen describes a sort of Bill of Rights for the information management systems of the future:

  1. Clarity: My manager organizes and shares information in ways that help me work smarter and faster.
  2. Navigation: In my workplace, it is easy for me to find whomever or whatever I need to work smart enough, fast enough.
  3. Fulfillment of Basics: In my workplace, it is easy to get what I need to get my work done—right information, right way, in the right amount.
  4. Usability: In my workplace, corporate-built stuff (like IT, training, and support) is easy to use.
  5. Speed: In my workplace, that same corporate-built stuff gets me what I need, as fast as I need it.
  6. Time: My company is respectful of my time and attention, and is focused on using it wisely and effectively.

6.  The Tree-Hugger’s Time Has Come.

According to Gartner, corporate social responsibility will soon be a higher board- and executive-level priority than regulatory compliance.  And key to this credibility will be the environmental footprint of an organization.

To put the information management part of this challenge into perspective, consider this:  If the U.S. cut its office paper use by roughly 10 percent or 540,000 tons, greenhouse gas emissions would fall by 1.6 million tons — equivalent to taking 280,000 cars off the road for a year.  There are over 4 trillion paper documents in the U.S., growing at a rate of 22% per year.

Key to cutting paper use is viewing it in the broader context of information management.  For 56% of organizations, the volume of paper records is increasing.  The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year and wastes about 1,410 of these pages.  With the average cost of each wasted page being about six cents, a company with 500 employees could be spending $42,000 per year on wasted prints.  

There is a very compelling environmental case that can be made for reducing paper use through the digitization of key business processes.  But a key element for organizations to consider is that the economic case for reducing paper use is just as compelling.  Among the benefits:

  • Direct and immediate cost savings on paper and shipping.
  • Increased process effectiveness and efficiency.
  • The potential to fully integrate field staff and offices into the information capabilities of the organization rather than relying on daily overnight mail.
  • Reduced real estate costs through the elimination of filing.
  • Improved morale as an integrated information infrastructure allows for greater flexibility in working arrangements.
  • Reduced off-site storage as the sheer volume of what needs to be physically preserved declines.

7.  You can no longer do this manually.

Many organizations have survived the first wave of the information revolution by assembling a patchwork quilt of technology and manual systems: 

  • It costs $20 to file a document, $120 to find a misfiled document, and $220 to reproduce a lost document.
  • 7.5 percent of all documents get lost; 3 percent of the remainder get misfiled.
  • The average document is photocopied 19 times.
  • Professionals spend 5-15% of their time reading information, but up to 50% of their time looking for the right information.

The viability of this strategy will increasingly be in question as the volume of information that must be managed increases.  We are rapidly approaching the point at which only additional technology to automate information ingestion and digestion can solve the problem.  

Very soon, organizations that rely on individual employees to smooth out the gaps and white spaces in their information management strategy will be at a distinct disadvantage.

8.   Mismanagement risks are rising.

As the complexity of the information management problem increases, so too do the risks of making mistakes.

Often these risks are viewing purely in terms of the risk of non-compliance or the risks of being caught unprepared for an e-discovery request.  While these are important and are often an important driver of action because the costs can be easily quantified, they under-estimate the risk exposure of failing to manage information properly.  

There are a host of information management risks beyond those usually associated with “compliance” that are described later in this volume by George Parapadakis of IBM.  “We didn’t keep it.”  “It was on the disk that crashed.” “Hey, that’s not my signature!” “Where is it?”  

It is only by adopting a risk management mindset to information management (similar to the one you might take with managing finances) that you can fully appreciate the risks of mismanaging information. 

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So what does this all mean?

There is a commercial for car repair where the mechanic says, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.  But you will pay me.”  

The information management landscape is changing quickly and dramatically and the stakes of getting it wrong are rising.  Now is the time to finally create and implement a strategy to treat your organization’s information as a critical business asset.  

Before it’s too late.

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8 reasons you need a strategy for managing information--before it's too late by AIIM is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

About John Mancini

John Mancini is the President of Content Results, LLC and the Past President of AIIM. He is a well-known author, speaker, and advisor on information management, digital transformation and intelligent automation. John is a frequent keynote speaker and author of more than 30 eBooks on a variety of topics. He can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as jmancini77. Recent keynote topics include: The Stairway to Digital Transformation Navigating Disruptive Waters — 4 Things You Need to Know to Build Your Digital Transformation Strategy Getting Ahead of the Digital Transformation Curve Viewing Information Management Through a New Lens Digital Disruption: 6 Strategies to Avoid Being “Blockbustered” Specialties: Keynote speaker and writer on AI, RPA, intelligent Information Management, Intelligent Automation and Digital Transformation. Consensus-building with Boards to create strategic focus, action, and accountability. Extensive public speaking and public relations work Conversant and experienced in major technology issues and trends. Expert on inbound and content marketing, particularly in an association environment and on the Hubspot platform. John is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College of William and Mary, and holds an M.A. in Public Policy from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.