Data and Information Management
Protecting an Important Organizational Asset
A client has just contacted you with a billing question, but, while you can view her bill, you can't access her order because it's held on a sales database that isn't synced with yours.
To help her, you need to speak with someone on the sales team, but he's out in the field, and three days pass before you have the information you need to resolve the issue. By this time, the customer is understandably upset.
Data and information management isn't just the responsibility of your IT department; it affects everyone in an organization. It can determine how well you communicate with your customers, how safe and secure your data is, how safe your customers are, and how efficiently everyone can meet their goals and achieve performance metrics.
In this article, we'll look at why data and information management can be so important, and we'll explore ways that you can organize data more effectively in your organization.
This is highly important in many businesses (for example, in banking), but is not as relevant in others (for example, in a design agency). Use your own best judgment when thinking about data and information management within your own organization.
What Is Data and Information Management?
The Data Management Association (DAMA) defines data and information management as "… the development, execution, and supervision of plans, policies, programs, and practices that control, protect, deliver, and enhance the value of data and information assets."
Data management has existed in some form since the 1950s. It emerged in the late 1970s as a distinct discipline when information began to move from paper to tape, and then to disk. Over the past decade, data management has become important for organizations of all sizes, in many different industries.
The Importance of Data Management
Effective data and information management is a concern for many organizations. The amount of digital information in the world is increasing tenfold every five years, and organizations are having a difficult time managing this data and keeping it secure.
In a study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University, fewer than 10 percent of organizations use documented processes to manage their data, and fewer than one in three organizations claim confidence in their own data.
The consequences of poorly managed data can be significant. Consider the following examples:
- Financial losses: Your organization's headquarters are flooded unexpectedly. Your backup system is outdated, and, as a result, you lose months of data, worth millions of dollars to your organization.
- Litigation risk: Hackers access your customer database, which includes addresses and credit card numbers. These customers are now at risk of identity theft, and they decide to sue you for violation of their privacy.
- Excess data storage costs: Your organization has no process for data cleansing – replacing or deleting inaccurate, incomplete, or outdated information. Consequently, your data storage costs and IT resource needs double each year.
- Inefficient workflow processes: Your team members can't find the information that they need to do their work, because each department has its own database, and none of these systems communicate with one another.
- Missed opportunities: Your sales reps struggle to access the inventory database, which informs them of product availability and delivery dates. Competitors win sales from you, because they have immediate access to this information.
- Brand/reputation loss: Customers are frustrated, because departments can't communicate effectively with one another. As a result, your organization's reputation and sales suffer.
- Negative press/publicity: One of your team members loses their laptop, which contains information about a well-known client. As a result, your organization receives negative media coverage and you lose a number of clients.
Put simply, when you can't get your hands on the information you need, or when the information you have isn't protected appropriately, you can miss opportunities, your performance drops, your projects and customers suffer, and you lose competitive advantage.
Security is a key element in data management. The 2013 Global State of Information Security Survey reports that although more than 70 percent of organizations surveyed are "very” or "somewhat” confident in their information security strategies, that confidence has declined steadily since 2008. Data theft and security issues are increasing each year, leading to financial losses, intellectual property theft, identity fraud, and compromised reputations.
Improving Your Information Management
If effective data and information management is important within your industry, then it should be given serious, long-term attention from everyone from the CEO and CIO down to the newest employee on the team.
Keep in mind that overhauling an existing system or syncing all of the databases in an organization can be an enormous, costly, and difficult project that can take months or years to implement – this may make it impractical, particularly if other projects will deliver a bigger business benefit.
However, you can take other steps to improve data management for your team, and for your organization.
1. Identify Frustrations
Start by listing the frustrations, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies that you experience regularly with information and data availability. (To do this, it can be helpful to use Flowcharts and Swim Lane Diagrams to map how information moves through your department or organization.)
Next, ask your team members to describe their frustrations regarding data and information. Lack of access or inefficiencies may be affecting their work in ways that you are not aware of.
Once you have a list of current issues, perform a Root Cause Analysis to trace each issue to its origin. This analysis can help you determine whether these problems, errors, or inefficiencies are the result of technical, maintenance, or human issues.
2. Review Security
The frustrations that you listed above could be a result of valid data security measures. For example, most organizations restrict access to personal information, such as employee salaries and vacation schedules, customer credit card data, or sensitive sales and financial data – clearly, you need to think carefully about who can access this information.
Start by conducting a Risk Analysis to identify any data security issues. Talk to other departments within the organization – particularly accounts, internal audit, compliance, and legal – to see if there are any issues that you need to be aware of.
Ask your IT department about information security. You and your team could be putting vital information at risk unknowingly, especially when you're working offsite on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Ask what you can do to keep your organization's information safe and secure, and communicate these best practices to your team.
3. Streamline Processes and Systems
Talk to your IT department about the problems, inefficiencies, and security points that you have identified. They might be able to fix some of these issues, or they might be able to suggest new ways to access the data that you need. At a minimum, letting IT staff members know about your frustrations gives them important feedback that they can consider during system upgrades and redesigns.
Your IT department might have a list of best practices and guidelines that you can use to streamline information, avoid duplication, protect sensitive data, and use existing systems more efficiently.
Talk to your team members about steps that they can take to improve their own data and information management. Do they have files or software that they are no longer using that can be deleted? Are they taking unnecessary risks with sensitive information? Do they keep files and folders organized, well-maintained, and up-to-date?
Think about the steps that you can take to improve data "housekeeping." Routinely going through your files and deleting old, inaccurate, or incomplete documents and programs can help reduce data storage costs for your organization; it's also a smart way to manage your electronic files. There may also be a central database that you could update, so that others in your organization can access your department's information.
4. Create Business Cases for Systems Improvements
For some organizations, data and information management may not be a high priority, and, for some, it may not seem relevant at all. If data management isn't as high a priority as it should be within your organization, you might have trouble getting buy-in for your proposed improvements.
Brainstorm the ways that improving data and information management could benefit your organization. If appropriate, write a business case outlining these ideas and proposals, and explain how your proposed systems improvements will help the organization and eliminate the consequences of poorly managed data.
Data and information management is the development of policies and systems that protect and deliver the information that your organization needs in order to operate.
In-depth data and information management is crucial to the success of some organizations, but for others it may not be a priority. When data is inaccurate, inaccessible, lost, or incomplete, your organization can suffer from financial losses, missed opportunities, low productivity, and a poor reputation.
To help your organization manage its data and information more effectively, list the frustrations, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies that you and your team members experience. Then, review the risks that you need to protect against.
When you've identified the changes that you want to make, talk to IT professionals about these issues, and find out what you can do to streamline processes and systems within your organization. Finally, write a business case to outline how your proposed improvements will benefit the organization.