Sean McGauley

By: Sean McGauley on October 13th, 2020

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'Records Management,' 'Information Governance,' and Why Words Matter

Information Governance  |  Electronic Records Management (ERM)  |  Automation

Words are important. Beyond that, the words you choose can mean the difference between someone understanding what you’re saying and someone giving you that glazed expression with one eyebrow lifted saying, “Huh?”

It’s just as important to think of WHO you are communicating to, as it is to think of WHAT you’re trying to say.

Allow me to share a quick example to illustrate my point. One of my favorite hobbies is fly fishing. To me, there’s nothing like being out in the middle of nowhere, wading into the middle of a crystal clear river, and trying to fool some trout.

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From time to time, friends will take an interest and ask to go with me. I remember the first time a friend came along. Our lesson started with rigging up the pole. Explaining this to my friend, I said:

“Ok, we’re going to be fishing nymphs today. So, we’re going to take your weight-forward tapered line, tie your leader onto that, then a length of tippet, some split shot, a strike indicator, and then your nymph.”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized I was practically speaking in a different language. There was a knowledge divide between me, and my friend who is brand new to this activity.

And that’s when it dawned on me – I just need to talk about fly fishing in a way that my friend would understand. The goal of the day was to just go fishing – I don’t need to give him the proper jargon for everything; I just need to get him the information he needs (and only the information he needs) in a way that he will understand.

So now that we understand more about the power of word choice, jargon, and knowing your audiences, let’s explore how this relates to information governance and records management.

Terminology Disorientation

Sometimes terminology changes, especially in the tech world. Often, it’s driven by the marketing engines of solution providers seeking differentiation. But, these changes are always a challenge for end-users trying to explain their projects and get funding for them. They probably feel like me in the fly fishing example, trying to talk about “nymphs” to someone who has no idea what that is.

In the broader content space, we experienced some of this disorientation as the core language used shifted from “ECM” to “Content Services,” and then with the incorporation of “Content Services” into the broader framework of “Intelligent Information Management.”

The same terminology disorientation has been true in the governance arena, with varying uses and interpretations of “Records Management” and “Information Governance.”

Based on AIIM’s research, we believe that the emergence of the term “Information Governance” to describe a broad cluster of functionalities necessary to manage both formal records and information has generally been a good thing. Let’s look at what else the research is telling us about RM vs. IG.

  • Overall, 48% say the shift in terminology emphasis from “Records Management” to “Information Governance” has made the task of managing and retaining critical business information easier.

  • As one might expect, Experienced Users are more likely to view the use of “Information Governance” as a positive thing (51% vs. 44% among Potential Users).

  • “Information Governance” is useful in talking with senior executives (i.e., VP and above) – 59% say it makes the task of managing retention of critical business information “easier” or “much easier.” For mid-level executives (i.e., Director or Manager – 44%) and Non-managerial staff (39%), the newer terminology is less useful.

Whatever We Call It, We Still Need the Functionality

At the bottom line, regardless of what you call it, the challenges associated with managing the intersection of people, processes, and information are getting more rather than less complex, as is the “language” used to describe the intersection. Records managers are still core to this function; Experienced Users particularly value the insights and skills of records managers. Records managers and governance professionals need to be cognizant of the various “dialects” used to describe the intersection between people, processes, and information and adjust their communications to reflect these “dialects.”

In fly fishing, most people don’t want or need to know what a nymph is – they just want to catch fish.

In business, most c-suites don’t care what Records Management or Information Governance is – they just want the functionalities they represent.

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