If Information Governance Started 30 Years Ago…

Alice Johnson, the long-time head of Records Management at manufacturing conglomerate X-Corp, was sitting at her desk one warm morning in the spring of 1986 when there was a sudden knock on her office door.

“Come in,” said Alice.

The door opened and in walked a well-dressed man carrying a briefcase and a pipe.  “Hello, Alice, I’m Monty Hadder,” he said.  “I’m an information governance professional and I’m your new boss.”

“Oh…well, welcome to the company, Mr. Hadder,” said Alice.

“Thank you.  And please call me Monty,” said Hadder, as he sat down in a chair in front of Alice’s desk.Chap-pipe-man 25percent

“So you said you were an ‘information what professional,’ Monty?”

“An information governance professional,” replied Hadder with a chuckle.

“Oh, I see,” said Alice, “That’s a new term to me.  What does an information governance professional do exactly?”

“Well, there are actually dozens and dozens of different definitions for the role of an information governance professional, Alice.” Monty replied, as he took a long drag off his pipe.  “And, frankly, no two definitions seem to be the same.”

“Doesn’t that make it kind of confusing, sir?” asked Alice.

“No, on the contrary, it makes it really quite liberating.  It means just about anyone can be an information governance professional.  I, myself, studied Eighteenth Century French Poetry in college and my last job was selling fax machines.”

“Um, OK.  But if you don’t mind my asking, how did this new role come about?”

“Well, over the years, we started to see a broadening or ‘expansion’ of the records management profession…”

“Oh,” interrupted Alice, desperately hoping she was starting to understand her new boss, “so information governance is traditional records management – but with additional responsibilities added on?”

“Oh, no, no, no, Alice,” Monty replied, banging his pipe on the sole of his shoe and emptying its contents into Alice’s trash can.  “The one thing all information governance professionals agree on is that it is not records management.  They are two distinctly separate roles.”

“But you just said…”

“Alice, I realize this may be difficult for you to understand, but information governance and records management are completely different professions,” said Monty.  “Information governance goes beyond records management to include security, legal discovery, privacy…”

“But I’m a records manager, Monty, and I’ve dealt with all those issues my whole career.  In fact, just this morning I was handling a security problem that came up at our corporate records center and…”

“Data Lake,” Monty interrupted.

“Um, I beg your pardon?”

“Data Lake.  We are now referring to the records center as the corporate ‘Data Lake’.”

“Well, OK, if you say so…,”Alice replied.  “Anyway, we had a problem at the ‘Data Lake’ where we thought some personal information on our employees might be exposed to personnel outside the Human Resources Department, but my team was able to locate the effected records series and correct the problem before it became an issue. They’re really quite good.

But getting back to information governance, Monty…please help me understand, does being an information governance professional require a background in records management?”

“Oh, heavens, no!  They’re two completely separate professions, Alice.  I just told you that.”

“But the professions are related.  You said information governance sprang from the ‘expansion’ of traditional records management responsibilities, right?”

“Yes! They are the same in many, many ways, but they are completely different professions.”

“But no one really agrees on how they are different?”

“Exactly!  It’s all very esoteric. Oh, and one more thing, an information governance professional is always higher on the corporate ladder than a records manager.  That’s why I’m your new boss!”

Dumbfounded, Alice could only stare.

“But enough about me,” Monty said as he was reloading his pipe, “tell me about yourself.”

“Well, I studied Library Science in college and I’ve been working in the X-Corp Records Management Department since I graduated almost 25 years ago.  About 12 years ago I was promoted to Department Manager and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

“Wow, that’s a long time in the same position.”

“It is, but I really love what I do.  I have a great team here and we do some wonderful things for the company.  Last year we conducted two major inventories, completely revised our corporate retention schedule and never lost control of a single document.  All while dispositioning 100% of our eligible records.”

“Wait!  You’re destroying records?”

“Of course!  That’s how we manage to stay compliant, keep our costs down and mitigate risk to X-Corp.”

“But aren’t you afraid you’ll get blamed if you destroy something important?,” Monty asked incredulously.

“Actually, no.  My team and I are very good at what we do and it’s our job to shoulder the responsibility for records disposition.  It’s why we get paid.”

“Aha!” Monty said with a wave of his pipe, “But information governance professionals recognize that there is a great deal of valuable information in those old records and we don’t want to risk losing it. We call it ‘Data Mining’.”

“Records managers feel the same way, Monty, but we want to eliminate the inaccurate and obsolete information so that the valuable information is easier to find and manage.  We call it ‘Records Management’.”

“But, honestly, Alice, X-Corp is a huge company.  Our records warehouse is enormous and we have unused storage space in various buildings scattered all across campus.  Storage is cheap and getting cheaper all the time.  Wouldn’t keeping all these records indefinitely be less expensive – and a whole lot easier – in the long run?”

Finally beginning to understand, Alice said, “That was the policy our biggest rival, Apex, adopted about ten years ago, Monty.  It actually worked for a while, and they even managed to cut their records management team in half.  But before long they had paper piled up in hallways, stacked in closets and bathrooms and laying on every open space in the company.  It was unsustainable.  They couldn’t find the records they wanted and the records they did find contained outdated, useless information.  Productivity slowed in every department in the company and new employees had to be brought in to manage the deluge of new records.  It wasn’t long before a stack of neglected records stored in a warehouse closet caught fire and burned down half their records center.  Most of their old records were lost and half of their active records were completely destroyed.  The other half became drenched when the fire was put out and Apex paid a fortune to prevent those records from being lost to mold.  Productivity ground to a halt across the company.  They couldn’t comply with any regulations and their customers and investors started suing them for everything they could think of.  It didn’t take long for Wall Street to catch up and Apex’s stock plummeted nearly 70%.  This was all a few years ago, but they’ve never recovered.  I hear they are considering filing for bankruptcy.  It’s all very sad, actually.”

“Yes, it is,” said Monty, “but clearly they weren’t practicing information governance!”

“No, sir, that’s just it.  Based on what you just told me, I think they were.”

Still not fully comprehending Alice’s meaning, Monty stood up, grabbed his briefcase, took one last drag on his pipe, and said, “Well, this has been a delightful conversation, Alice.  I’m looking forward to working with you.”

Alice stood and shook Hadder’s hand.  “And I’m looking forward to working with you, too, Monty,” she said.

Immediately after Hadder left her office Alice picked up her phone and dialed her stockbroker.

“Pete, this is Alice Johnson,” she said.  “How many shares of X-Corp do I own?”

“Well, Alice, you’ve been with the company a long time and you’ve been buying shares since you started, so I’d say a lot.  Probably about 25,000.  Why do you ask?”

“Because I want you to sell them all.”

“Uh, OK…but you know you can’t do this based on inside information, right?”

“It’s not based on inside information, Pete.  Just a really bad feeling about the company’s future…”

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