Are Agencies Getting Full Return on Information?

Topics: Information Management: New Thinking

By Tyler Morris, Director of Product Management for Iron Mountain Government Services

Records and information management in the federal government has reached a tipping point. The constant influx of information and creation of new record types has combined with mounting pressure from inside the government to become more digital, accessible, transparent and cost effective – accelerating the need for agencies to modernize their records programs in order to keep up with continually evolving information demands. The government has made significant progress on this front through initiatives such as the Presidential Directive on Managing Government Records and the Office of Management and Budget's Reduce the Footprint Policy, forcing a reduced use of space which can also mean a reduction in physical records. This, however, is not the time for complacency as much still needs to be done to ensure the government has total control over its information. Confidence concerns around records management practices still permeate federal agencies, preventing the government from realizing its maximum potential Return on Information – or the true value of the information.

Agencies Lack Confidence, Putting Records at Risk

A new survey conducted by Market Connections, Inc. has found that much still needs to be done to close the confidence gap surrounding information governance, security and access at the agency level. The study, which surveyed 150 federal employees engaged in their agency's records management practices, found that only 15 percent of total respondents strongly agree current records management policies are meeting the needs of their agency. Additionally, only 33 percent of total respondents said they were fully confident their records were not at risk.

The survey identified a number of possible improvement areas in federal agency operations that would address the lack of confidence among government records professionals. The top two self-reported challenges were end users' lack of awareness of policies and procedures (41 percent), and the tremendous growth rate of government records (39 percent). It is not surprising overall confusion and lack of awareness persist, as the survey found that only 53 percent of respondents had received formal records training and 19 percent had not received any training at all, even informally.

This lack of formal training has far-reaching consequences for the government. The training disconnect is causing agencies to miss out on opportunities to lower costs, limit associated exposure to risk and maximize the value of information. Informal training and personal judgment simply cannot replace formal training and a comprehensive information governance program.

The Silver Lining

The good news is that even small adjustments, like formalizing records and information training for all employees, can have widespread, beneficial effects on compliance. In fact, 64 percent of those who received formal training described it as 'very effective,' which contrasts significantly compared to only 12 percent of those receiving informal training who described it as 'very effective.' The vast majority (81 percent) of respondents who received informal training described it as only 'somewhat effective,' strongly suggesting there is room for improvement in every federal agency to arm employees, from the management levels down to the end user, with more structured guidance on records policies and protocols. Agencies can make progress towards establishing a more confident, defensible records and information management plan by taking it a step at a time, first ensuring formal training for all, then exploring automating retention rules or archiving email. Every government undertaking, ranging from the truly massive to the most modest tweaks, begins with taking that first step. Progressing towards a better digital, open future state is possible and even small steps can make a big difference in confidence levels across the government.

Steps for Success

To address the multitude of information management challenges that are still beleaguering agencies in spite of high-level directives, comprehensive information economics initiatives that account for the specific needs and capabilities of their agency must be developed. By way of brief definition, information economics allows agencies to manage and leverage information created and received by an organization with a focus on the bottom line. To extract the value being missed by agencies, information economics allows them to fully address the unification of information security, governance and access to deliver that value.

To institute a formal information economics program, agencies should consider the following steps:

  • Take stock of assets and focus on understanding controlled information: What do you have, what needs organizing and where can volume be reduced to better manage risk?
  • Extract and maximize value: Evaluate information access procedures and workflow and then pinpoint opportunities for improvement and increased efficiency. Increase accessibility by digitizing high-value documents.
  • Reap greater return: Manage information more effectively across its entire lifecycle to realize a Return on Information.
  • Practice the art of self-examination: Self-assessment should lead to better communication within an agency and improve internal collaboration.
  • Analyze the information: Once information is under control, apply big data analytics to help inform future decisions.

Before agencies are able to capitalize on the value in their data, they must first establish proper control. The rate of information produced on a daily basis and the cost of handling and storing that information has never been higher. By knowing exactly what information is under their control, and exactly where it resides, agencies can cull necessary records and eliminate wasteful spending by properly disposing of outdated records as soon as they become eligible for elimination. Through proper training and adherence to the steps listed above, agencies will enable their employees to determine exactly what information their agency has, how to maximize its value and how best to eliminate associated risk and costs. Ultimately, they will drive Return on Information through the implementation of information economics.