The Moral Imperative to Understanding ‘Information Governance’

Last month, a federal judge found that errors by Air Force records managers were primarily responsible for a 2017 mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas that resulted in the murders of 26 men, women, and children – including a five year old girl. (This conclusion had already been confirmed a year and a half earlier in this February 2020 Epoch Times investigation.) 

How could this have happened? And more importantly, what can records managers do to prevent it from happening again?

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About 10 or 12 years ago, marketing executives at powerful tech companies began to notice that records managers – particularly those working in Federal government agencies – were failing to effectively manage information through its appropriate lifecycle using the expensive technologies these companies were selling them. Instead of questioning the effectiveness of these technologies and working with records managers to improve them, these same marketers realized they could make even more money if they blamed the centuries-old discipline of records management on these failures and developed a completely new discipline to take its place. This new discipline became known as ‘information governance.’ 

Since its inception, tech companies have heavily marketed the new ‘information governance’ discipline and it has gradually replaced traditional records management as the answer to solving the information lifecycle management challenge at every institution that once represented the records management profession, including ARMA International, AIIM, MER, and even the Institute of Certified Records Managers.

Yet tragedies like the Sutherlands Springs murders continue unabated and they are still being blamed on failures in records management. This is only possible because the marketers who invented ‘information governance’ never actually defined what it was or demonstrated how it was in any way a superior discipline to traditional records management.   

This madness cannot continue. There is no transparency anywhere in our private and public organizations. Our leaders are not being held accountable for anything they do. Our privacy is completely evaporating. Our most valuable recorded information is being stolen in an accelerating stream of devastating data breaches…and people are dying. All because the work that records managers have performed for thousands of years is no longer being carried out. 

This is a life-or-death matter and an existential threat to civilized society. I am presenting a list of questions below. If you are an information governance professional or you hold a place of leadership in an organization that promotes the new information governance discipline, you are morally obligated to provide answers to these questions so that records management professionals like myself can understand what we are doing wrong and can no longer be held responsible for these types of devastating tragedies: 

1. The definition of records management has always remained the same: effective management of recorded information (regardless of format or media) through each stage of its appropriate lifecycle: creation, use, distribution, maintenance, and disposition. What is the commonly accepted definition of information governance that distinguishes it as a separate discipline from traditional records management?

2. In an organizational hierarchy, is the information governance discipline below, above, or somehow complementary to records management? Please explain your answer.

3. Can one become an information governance professional without training and experience in records management? If not, what level of records management expertise is required before one can become an information governance professional?

4. Becoming a qualified records management professional requires years of rigorous academic study and real-world experience. Is that also true for an information governance professional? If so, where does one acquire such training and experience?

5. What technologies does an information governance professional implement that would not be used by a records management professional? How does an information governance professional use existing records management technologies differently than they have been used by records management professionals?

6. Just as a financial manager has a fiduciary obligation to her customer’s money, a records manager has a fiduciary obligation to her customer’s recorded information. This has been true for thousands of years. Does an information governance professional also have a fiduciary obligation to her customer’s information? If so, how has it been established and how is it different from the fiduciary relationship records managers have with information?

7. Please provide at least one academic study of a real-world case showing where traditional records management failed to successfully manage an organization’s information lifecycle challenges, but application of the new information governance discipline did. Please highlight the technologies, policies, and methodologies used by the information governance professional that were not used by the organization’s records management program.           

Please provide your answers in the comments section below.


2 thoughts on “The Moral Imperative to Understanding ‘Information Governance’

  1. “About 10 or 12 years ago, marketing executives at powerful tech companies began to notice that records managers – particularly those working in Federal government agencies – were failing to effectively manage information through its appropriate lifecycle using the expensive technologies these companies were selling them. Instead of questioning the effectiveness of these technologies and working with records managers to improve them, these same marketers realized they could make even more money if they blamed the centuries-old discipline of records management on these failures and developed a completely new discipline to take its place. This new discipline became known as ‘information governance.’ ”

    I’m more disheartened with the RM community than you are I think Don. I don’t think it was necessarily a fault of the technologies solely or even mostly, but mostly a failure of the RMs. I’ve worked in numerous Fed agencies and almost to the person the RMs forced technology and electronic processes to behave like they were used to in paper processes. I’ve seen RMs insist everything going into a system had to be converted to a .pdf. I’ve seen RMs insist that employees couldn’t possibly put records in a system so they had to be emailed to an RM who would then put it in the system for them. I’ve seen RMs who don’t understand email, sharepoint, much less other technologies and RMs who don’t care what process creates a record, only that someone at the end follows their flow chart to declare it and then hand it over to the RM to “manage.”

    I don’t think that NARA helped, either, especially since they were requiring “print to file” email records capture for years.

    I think that IT departments especially grew frustrated with these dinosaurs and their outdated processes to capture information and simply grew other positions. Electronic records software (admittedly some were duds) weren’t to blame, but the processes to capture the records in them were to blame. Those processes were designed by RMs and employees ignored them because they were cumbersome and the value wasn’t present. So again, IT departments came up with the “information manager” who would look at existing repositories and map those to a governance plan so they could semi-responsibly get rid of obsolete information. The certification process and orgs fighting to get money to give someone a certificate followed very quickly.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Mike.

      As I think I’ve mentioned to you before, I don’t believe records MANAGEMENT has failed these last 20 years or so, I believe records MANAGERS have. Some of that is their own fault for not adapting to the transition from paper records to records born digitally, but a lot of it is due to bad guidance from people and associations they trusted who ultimately betrayed them.

      But I think you are letting the tech companies off far too easily. They have behaved reprehensively. I will be writing about my experiences working at one of them in some upcoming posts. I think you will be shocked.

      In the meantime, I’m just hoping that SOMEONE has enough faith in ‘information governance’ to answer my questions. It really couldn’t be more important.

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