This post also available on CMSWire.
If you have any experience with SharePoint as a document management platform, you know that today, most organizations struggle to use it effectively. You’re also likely to be familiar with the negative impacts that typically result from using SharePoint ineffectively: a proliferation of sites, often on a proliferation of SharePoint versions, with no clear standards on what documents should (and shouldn’t) be stored there or how; no clear guidelines for users on how to classify their documents; few to no capabilities for promoting effective information lifecycle management; little to no end-user governance or oversight for things like site and document library structures, security and access settings, or document hygiene; and dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of orphaned sites that, taken together, represent a digital landfill of staggering proportions.
In part, the reason so many organizations suffer from most (if not all) of these SharePoint issues has to do with SharePoint’s ease of use. It’s easy to stand up and deploy, easy to provision sites, easy to enable self-service and push administrative oversight to end users, easy to configure by end users, easy to get documents into.
But all this ease of use and freedom requires a tremendous organizational discipline in order to be leveraged for good rather than for evil — and unfortunately most organizations have historically lacked the discipline needed to benefit from SharePoint’s potential.
Bigger Fish to Fry
But when you start to dig deeper and ask why organizations have lacked the discipline to use SharePoint effectively, you quickly realize that the problems with SharePoint I’ve sketched here are only the tip of the iceberg. They’re merely symptomatic of a larger, far more troubling problem at these organizations: weak or nonexistent information governance at the enterprise level.
And this problem, left unsolved, makes it extremely difficult to get value from any document management technology, whether SharePoint, one of the “big three” enterprise content management (ECM) systems (IBM, EMC, OpenText), or a niche solution meant to address vertical business processes (e.g. contract management, engineering drawing management, product lifecycle management, etc.).
I’ll do something that’s uncharacteristic for a consultant and not answer the question of what weak information governance looks like with a wishy-washy "it depends." Instead, I’ll declare unequivocally what weak information governance looks like — imagine that!
If any of the following statements apply to your organization, you have information governance problems. Full stop. The more of these statements that apply, the worse your information governance problems are:
- No persistent organizational body owns information governance; it’s only addressed in a piecemeal, one-off, siloed way (if at all).
- Ownership of information governance is limited to a single group (e.g. only IT or only Legal).
- The ultimate responsibility for information governance stops short of the C-level (i.e. the highest-level owner of information governance is not a CXO).
- IT, Legal and Compliance, and the lines of business would each say that information governance is not theirs to own, but rather better owned by one (or both) of the other two groups.
- IT, Legal and Compliance, or the lines of business (perhaps all of them) would say that information governance is exclusively theirs to own and should not be owned by either of the other two groups.
- No formalized process is in place to ensure that information governance requirements are considered during the design phase of IT system development (whether the platform is built in house or procured from a vendor).
I’d be willing to bet a crisp twenty that if your organization suffers from the SharePoint problems I discussed above, that it also suffers from some (if not all) of these information governance problems as well. And the hard truth is that unless you address these more fundamental information governance problems, you will never adequately solve the more immediate and more obviously painful SharePoint ones.
So let’s talk a bit about what good information governance looks like and how you can take steps to develop it at your organization.
Stating the Obvious
One way to think about what strong, effectual information governance looks like is to take the problems I identified above and turn them around:
- A persistent organizational body owns information governance
- Ownership of information governance is cross-functional and includes meaningful participation from IT, Legal and Compliance, and the lines of business.
- C-level executives take the ultimate responsibility for information governance.
- IT, Legal and Compliance, and the lines of business feel a shared ownership and responsibility for information governance at the organization.
- IT, Legal and Compliance, and the lines of business feel that effective information governance at the organization requires participation from the other two groups.
- A formalized process is in place (and followed) to ensure that information governance requirements are considered during the design phase of IT system development (whether the platform is built in house or procured from a vendor).
In my 15 years in the information management space, the organizations that effectively manage their information assets are those that exhibit these characteristics — and the more of these they have, the more successful they are at managing their information; the fewer, the less successful.