CMSWire: We Need Fewer Information Managers and More Business People

This post also available on the CMSWire blog.

I recently gave a keynote presentation at a records management conference in Salt Lake City on how records managers need to evolve to meet the demands of the changing landscape of corporate information management.

The talk covered a wide range of subjects: from techniques for getting buy-in, to the differences between records management and information management, to information management's centrality to front-office operations, and how “justifying your existence” is critical for information managers.

But the key theme was to stop being information managers and start being business people.

A Means to an End

This isn't a slight against the venerable discipline of information management. After all, along with managing financial assets, physical assets, and human assets, information management is 25 percent of what all organizations do. I meant to drive home the fact that information management is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Despite how important we practitioners think it is, the only value it adds to an organization is insofar as it helps that organization achieve its overall goals.

Given that, as information managers (or as records managers trying to evolve into information managers), the only way to succeed is to focus on the business goals which information management contributes to, rather than on the narrow, domain-specific goals of information management – e.g. lifecycle management, information architecture, findability, and so on.

To do this, I encouraged those records managers in Salt Lake City to look to their front-office peers for inspiration. Take Sales, for example: There’s as much (if not more) domain-specific knowledge about how to do sales out there, but you never hear sales folks talk about any of that to the larger organization to get support. Rather, they talk about how they’re going to use that support to, duh, drive more sales.

Or Operations: They don’t get into the specifics of LEAN or Six Sigma, just in time, or supply chain theory; no, they simply talk about how they’re going to use organizational support to drive savings, increase margins, increase capacity, improve quality, speed time to market, and so on.

If Sales and Operations strive to justify their existence in business terms, why should information management be any different?

Edicts Don't Get You Anywhere

One reason why is that information managers (and the records managers they evolved from) tend to know less about how the business works than front-office folks like Sales and Operations. Ask a roomful of folks at AIIM or ARMA whether they’d feel comfortable giving a presentation to their business VPs on the corporate value chain and the way their department generates revenue, incurs costs, and raises margins.

Every time I’ve asked this question, I’m lucky to have even one person say that they would. If you ask any front-office employee with more than a year’s experience to do the same, they could absolutely do a passable job. Yet we have longstanding employees in information management who can’t do the same.

Another reason: We tend to think of information management as a must-do, “thou-shalt” discipline. It has its roots in Compliance and Legal, so there’s a legacy of “do this, or else” in how we approach it.

Well, the fact is that organizations don’t have to do anything. They decide to do things, even compliance activities, based on how that action affects their risk/value profile. Yet as information management practitioners, we often fall back on a thou-shalt justification, which fails to communicate the many significant business benefits to getting information management right.

Looking at it another way, we have to do Sales and Product Development, but you don’t see those departments relying on thou-shalt arguments to get support; they articulate their benefits in business relevant terms and convince the wider organization to give them what they need. Information management should be no different.

In the end, the shift in focus from records management to information management is a beneficial (and much needed) one. And I applaud industry organizations like ARMA and AIIM that are working to effect the shift. But in all this excitement and hullabaloo, we shouldn't confuse the means with the ends.

Information governance is a tool, albeit an extremely important one, to use to meet business objectives. Full stop. Without achieving tangible business results, there’s no reason to do information management, no matter how important it might be in theory.

So put your information management cap to the side, don your business person cap, and start demonstrating how information management impacts your organization’s bottom line.

Rich Medina
Joe Shepley
I’m VP and Practice Lead, focusing on developing Doculabs’ InfoSec practice and its applications in a wide range of industries.