Managing quality information not just data

Working on reporting, business intelligence or website related projects, you frequently hear the comment, we have plenty of data, but not a lot of information. I have found that one element in helping a business enhance their decision making with quality information is the use of an information management policy.

It is important in compiling such a policy that the business goals and processes and the users’ requirements are taken into consideration when formulating the rules. Go symbol - benefit of a policy
With this attention to business and user considerations, an information policy can operate transparently and effectively and be viewed as a practical aid.

Most work-flow, document management, content management or business intelligence software solutions facilitate the implementation of such a policy’s guidelines. I have added links to two examples of information management policies at the end of this post.

What is an Information Management policy ?

To quote from the Sharepoint 2007 Administrator’s Companion;
Information management policies are sets of rules that govern the automated management of documents.
These rules can relate to

  • The retention of documents or information before being archived and how it is to be archived
  • Access to the documents or information in terms of viewing or changing the content
  • The expected detail when logging activities that occurred with the documents or information such as checking in/out a document, updating a document or a change in access rights

Why use an Information Management policy ?

After the reading this definition, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is just additional bureaucracy. However, a well thought out policy will help ensure that accurate information is available to the right people at the appropriate time, thus

  • Reducing the risk of bad decisions being taken
  • Improving the availability of quality information
  • Reducing the risk of any inadvertent or intended faulty tempering of data

In addition, such a policy will ensure that any legal or regulatory provisions are being catered for by confirming that the appropriate monitoring and control is in place.

To help monitor the effectiveness of the policy, the expected business benefits should be listed as objectives and the various people and their information management responsibilities should also be noted in the policy.

What’s in an Information Management Policy

There are a number of elements that are contained in a typical policy, including;

  1. Retention and Expiration
    For each piece of information, the length of time that the information is to be retained and when it is deemed to have expired should be specified.
  2. Archiving
    Related to the expiration details, the archiving policy that is to be followed should also be described including whether the information is to be retained and in what format or whether it is to be deleted and by what means.
  3. Access
    Details on the different levels of data access in terms of who can view, update, sign-off, remove and comment on data. This information can be specific to particular individuals, organisation levels/grades or departments/groups.
  4. Labeling and Metadata
    This policy describes the data that can be used to describe the various documents or information within the scope of the policy and how each document or piece of information is to be categorised. This will be of particular importance in facilitating people searching for documents/information or whether particular groups/individuals are to be alerted on any document/information updates.

Rolling out the policy

In planning the roll out of an information management policy, it is important to realise that such a policy can have different levels of coverage, in that it could apply to one particular document, intranet or website or it could apply to all information and systems being used by an organisation. Therefore the rollout needs to be appropriate to the planned scope of the policy.

When focusing on the business and user requirements in planning the policy and incorporating details on the planned benefits into the actual policy document, this information should be communicated to the user community so that there is clear understanding of the policy, it’s intended benefits and the intended operating transparency.

Given that the policy will be implemented using functionality in your content, document or database management system, use the user centred design/development approach and as the functionality is being reviewed and tested, the policy and software can be updated accordingly, if bugs or anomalies occur.

It is important to remember that a well thought out policy can be a good starting point for dealing with regulations such as data protection, and that will be a topic for a future post.

Lastly, here are two examples of information management policies;

I would be interested to hear comments on other examples of information management policies.

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