Why don’t organisations manage their information in the same way they manage their money?

In the expanding social media age, I wonder how many organisations spend as much time managing their money as they do their information and knowledge.  By that I mean, there are regular reports on the financial position. Managers hold regular budget meetings with the accountants. The accountants spend time reviewing the accounts and the balance sheet.  Managers meet regular to discuss budgets and how they will be managed.

By contrast, how often do managers senior or junior, meet to discuss the information (or knowledge) created and held within their teams?  In the emerging social media/knowledge management world, information, which becomes knowledge, is incredibly valuable. Yet, we do not spend much time on it. In many ways, the information is the money.

Despite that view, most managers appear to look at information through the perspective of regulatory compliance. The goal in that framework is to the information becoming a problem (a breach or a leak). Some managers take a different approach by looking for the opportunities the information provides. They look within the information their organisation holds or creates. They seek out external information that can add value to the internal information.

The theoretical points can be seen in how organisations manage their emails. When an organisation meets its legal requirements, does it consider how that compliance affects the value of its information?  Emails are a source of vital business records but they are seen as a compliance issue and not a management issue. In most cases, staff are not very good at managing their emails.  In particular, records managers face a constant challenge with maintaining an email system that complies with records management principles.

Chris Prom described the issue from a theoretical perspective when summarising an argument presented by Steve Bailey.  Steve presented his paper at the Digital Preservation Coalition’s event on Preserving Email: Directions and Perspectives. http://www.dpconline.org/events/details/32-preserving-email-directions-and-perspectives He suggested that a records management approach to emails had been a wasted effort http://bit.ly/n9Xv6h.  The argument was a new approach was needed that reflected how employees worked and not trying to get the employees to fit into a records management system.

Perhaps the reason for that failure is that managers are not discussing email management with their staff in the same way that they discuss the importance of sound financial management. Do managers regularly discuss the records created and retained in emails? From a regulatory framework, especially in the UK, poor email management can lead to large fines under the Data Protection Act.  In the UK, the largest Data Protection fine so far (£120,000 fine to Surrey County Council) related to breaches involving emails. At the same time, the courts have placed a greater emphasis on e-discover covering emails. The mismanagement of emails and the information they contain can have serious financial and legal consequences.

Despite these risk and these penalties, organisations do not appear to see the value in the information.  The opportunity within information is what creates it value.  The value of information is what requires it to be managed like money. The information and knowledge being generated by staff on a regular basis are what will make organisations value. The extent to which organisations can capture that knowledge and retain that information, they will be able to retain value.  More importantly, they will need to find ways to leverage the information they already have to extract greater value from it.  However, few managers, it would appear, actively review, discuss, or analyse the information and knowledge they hold for that value.

In one sense, this is to be expected because knowledge and information are less tangible than the money. In a physical sense, a corporation’s money is as intangible to senior managers as is the information.  Few, if any, Chief Financial Officers ever see or touch the money that they allocated. In that sense, the tangibility and fungibility of money and information are the same. Yet, there is an important difference.

The opportunity held within money is constantly assessed, quantified, analysed, and expressed.  By contrast, the information and knowledge coursing through an organisation rarely gets the same value analysis.  One may talk about petabytes of information, or databases, or even the proposals and patents. How many are looking at the opportunity value of the information and knowledge within a team or a service?  The problem may be the need to find an appropriate metric to measure the value of information or quantify a good idea.  Yet, one could also suggest that such a metric already exists as organisations decide to back some projects and not others.  However, does that still leave the information and the knowledge contained within those projects under exploited? In doing so, are we managing the outcome of the information rather than the information itself?

In the end, the question remains: why don’t we manage our information and knowledge to the same degree we manage our money?

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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