11 February 2015

The Curious State of Information Governance at LegalTech: Contradictions Abound

At the New York City LegalTech Feb. 3-6, Information Governance (IG) could be seen as an incidental tag line or a rising star.

I say “incidental tag line” because many exhibitors added IG to their signage in a list of bulleted items.  It was as if they wanted to be sure not to exclude someone because they didn't have a requisite buzz word. ..kind of like Burger King adding a vegetarian patty to their menu so a single herbivore in a group would not 86 the idea of going to Whopperland.

When questioned, many booth personnel had no idea how to define IG.  Some equated it with data management, others called it eDiscovery/predictive coding, still others said it was defensible disposition, and a final group said The Dead Man in Yossarian’s Tent could answer my question, if I would just return later.  This was disappointing and dismaying, but it speaks to the noted (if misunderstood) significance of IG.  (To be fair, a couple vendors were on board with real IG, but they stood out as exceptions that prove the rule.)

Other evidence points to IG as a rising star.  The Information Governance Initiative celebrated its first anniversary with a well-attended pre-con “Boot Camp”.  Notable in attendance was the first known Chief Information Governance (and Privacy) Officer, JoAnn Stonier of MasterCard.  At ARMA International, last October, Drinker Biddle’s Jason Baron had predicted such a sighting in 2015.  It took just over a month to make him prophet in his own time.

Specific reasons that corporations should establish a “C” level IG positions were voiced at LegalTech:
·         IG is part of corporate governance, so it should be a vocal part of “C” suite meetings (Alison North)
·         CIOs don’t own information; they own infrastructure (Barclay Blair)
·         Creating a CIGO develops corporate clout for a discipline that, in some organizations, has been devalued
·         Politics do matter, and a CIGO will develop alliances with peer Chiefs, combating or befriending antagonists to develop IG and effect measurable change

ARMA sponsored a conference track on IG that filled every seat, certainly more than 100. A show of hands revealed a healthy balance of attendees from sometimes siloed industries: Legal, Records, IT, Compliance, Security, and others.  The Information Governance Initiative had just released the print version of its survey study on “IG in 2020”, and Executive Director Blair opined that CIGOs would be common in six or seven years.

Blair also shared springtime plans for an eight-chapter manual on how to be a CIGO, with chapters on goals, responsibilities, navigating corporate governance, qualifications to be a CIGO, and more. 

Panel moderator Julie Colgan, of ARMA and Nuix, posed the question, “Is Information Governance a buzz word?”  That is, is it a fad, a flash in the pan, or an ephemeral phenomenon?  The question is valid in the wake of a regatta of technologies that caught wind and sailed one moment before drifting in irons the next.

Panelists North and others had the right answer:  It doesn’t matter whether the term “Information Governance” achieves longevity or not.  The term may morph or fade but the work that the term describes and addresses will not go away.  Lauren Barnes of Credit Suisse posited, “It is a writing term, a branding.”

You can call a screw a “threaded fastener”, but it is still needed to hold things together.  Whatever you call IG, organizations will still need to harvest synergies and eliminate redundancies between their information’s stakeholders.  Also, they will still need enhanced cooperation between, say,  IT and RIM, or Legal and Security.  And they will still need the competitive advantage of higher efficiencies and lower risks.

Information Governance is a good term…until a better term comes along.  Now if only the exhibitors at LegalTech that display the phrase could define it.  

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