Information Governance: What It Is & Why We Need It

Monday, June 23, 2014 - 10:45

The following is a colloquy in summary form of a webcast between Barclay T. Blair, Founder & Executive Director of the Information Governance Initiative, and Mary Mack, Esq., Enterprise Technology Counsel, ZyLAB.

To view the webcast, click here.

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Mack: We are happy to bring to your readers the latest on how the initiative to define information governance is rolling out, what is being found and why it is important for organizations we serve and individuals in those organizations to have this knowledge. Speaking today is Barclay Blair, founder and executive director of the Information Governance Initiative (IGI) as well as president of the consulting firm Via Lumina. He is an advisor to Fortune 500 companies and software and hardware vendors, is internationally recognized and an expert on information governance. He is the award-winning author of several volumes, among which are Information Nation: Seven Keys to Information Management Compliance; Information Nation Warrior; and Privacy Nation.

Barclay, what have you found in bringing the information governance gospel to the outside world?

Blair: I plan to discuss a few key questions that keep coming up regarding information governance in this first of a series of webinars. The reality is that most organizations are just starting to think about information governance.

Let’s start with “why the Information Governance Initiative.” There is a great deal of cognitive dissonance as to what information governance really is. There is a groundswell of hyper-emotional sentiment expressed about the wonders of big data and its power without clearly pinning down its efficacy in practical terms. We have no idea of the extent of “junk” data in our enterprises since we have no accurate measurements. It was because of this disconnect that we started the Information Governance Initiative. In the meantime, poor information management is a threat to the global justice system.

Mack: So, what is the Information Governance Initiative?

Blair: The IGI is the culmination of a three-year vision to create a consortium of leading providers to research and to underwrite the future of what information is. It is a conversation between multiple parties who handle e-discovery and records management, big data and information protection, data analytics and all other parts of the organization that own a piece of the information pie. The work force is still nascent. It is unclear who owns the multifaceted problem. We are collecting the views of the marketplace on information governance and case studies. We’re building an advisory board to assure that we are bringing to bear the perspectives on all the different facets of information governance in our research and in our testing. Among the group are corporate counsel who are actively working in information governance along with subject matter experts from our various support groups who are constantly working in this area.

Mack: I was struck by the multidisciplinary and cross-functional nature of the advisory committee in sharing industry best practices. I see this as a corporate focus to reduce risk as well as exploit opportunities.

Blair: The direst problem we face and the greatest opportunities around information will only be solved with the help of persons with senior-level vision and support. What is really a conundrum is how the management of information has as yet really to take hold as a discipline that is owned from the top down. That is one of the key challenges we plan to charge the market to take on.

Mack: I think the participants in this webinar may have seen that same opportunity when e-discovery first emerged in their organizations – it was something people feared and nobody owned. Those who stepped up have markedly different titles today as a result of their courage in undertaking the challenge.

Blair: There is no definitive list of persons trying to solve this problem since it is an ill-defined role that is ever changing. This is one of the questions in our recent survey: Are you hiring new people to fill this role or transforming existing roles?

Mack: Do you think it will be a situation, as in the case of e-discovery, where the position gets written around the person?

Blair: That is likely to be the case until the discipline is defined and begins to mature.

Mack: When one speaks of risks and reward, one normally thinks of the legal department as the business prevention department. In this context of information governance there is an opportunity for the legal department to take a proactive role in actually saying “yes” in seeing some market opportunities. Who is leading currently? How can members of the legal community get more into the “yes” category?

Blair: Clearly legal as an owner of information should take a leadership role. Rather than reacting to problems that are brought to him or her, the general counsel at many companies has a role that is changing, becoming more proactive and embedded in the business, which bodes well for legal’s taking a real leadership role.

Mack: Our clients often create what I call “application justification committees” as new data bases get launched, but there is an absence of qualitative management.

Blair: What I hear from folks who are active in implementing information governance systems is frustration about lack of support from senior management. Perhaps, they are unrealistic in their expectations, but more likely it is the fact that no one in the organization owns this realm or feels accountable for it. The CIO feels responsible for the IT infrastructure, but not the qualitative information it holds. We are quite a long way from determining who owns “information governance.”

Mack: We have a question from a records administrator of a large city government who obviously deals with a budget. His question is: “How do you bring this forward to a COO and a CFO that this (setting up an information governance function) will be cost efficient and good for the organization?” What reasons are you seeing that organizations are actually willing to take this on?

Blair: The reality is that we are not very good at quantifying the cost of the value of information, but that’s something we’re hoping to help with at IGI. Our next webcast, sponsored by ZyLAB, will go into detail about the financial and operational levels that can be measured. Measurement is key to communicating with COOs and CFOs.

Mack: How do we obtain the annual report?

Blair: It is obtainable at our website, The 2014 survey shows the number of organizations allocating budget to information governance. It is important in making the case for information governance to determine in which direction the needle is pointing, depending on the cultural orientation or financial situation of your organization. In the instance where risk avoidance was paramount, a company had set up “a risk the brand committee” of very senior executives. Every month they would survey their business activities along with the regulatory environment determining what the risks in this environment are and how to mitigate these risks. These were determinants in spending money on information governance. Another company sought to “maximize the present value of information over its life cycle,” where the impetus was to inject more efficiency into the business. While the two companies’ programs ultimately looked very similar, the motivations for their justification were totally different.

Mack: How important do you see actual quantification of the successes to be helpful in persuading folks to adopt the program?

Blair: From a consulting standpoint they have only grown in importance. We have seen how very important generating information is from a business point of view. When you talk about quantification, you start to talk about the path to value. Is there value in labeling the environment that employees work in so they understand that information has a cost in order to encourage certain behaviors? Another idea that I have advanced is “information cap and trade.” Instead of limiting emissions of noxious gases, the limitation would be on information emissions based on the size of the business, with a quantifiable amount. Any emissions under the quota would be tradable.

My goal is to quantify how much information we actually have, where it is, what it is, and how much it costs, and then to implement it in the enterprise in a unique way.

The other means of evaluating information is use of full cost accounting for the information at hand. Ironically, this was a method used by municipalities in figuring out how much to charge homeowners for garbage pickup and disposal. This is a model that charges for both hard and soft costs as well as things we value in our organization, as these apply to information. My hope is to improve the information input.

Mack: Some questions being asked are, how does this Initiative involve the community? And, are there local chapters so that advocates of this philosophy do not have to reinvent the wheel?

Blair: What we need to do is gather together all the people who own a piece of this information puzzle and get them talking. I would welcome local chapters. Go to our website ( and join so that you will receive our annual report and case studies. We would also welcome any corporate counsel to that group. Our benchmarking work will help prevent your reinventing the wheel.

Mack: A listener just asked, “Is it normal for an e-discovery counsel to be excluded from information governance activities?”

Blair: I would not advocate excluding e-discovery practitioners from joining since e-discovery is where we learn the truth about our information environment. The tragedy with e-discovery is that the way it has been done is that the practitioners seek immediate information for a given case rather than folding it back into the information environment as a testament to what has been learned. There has not been a pipeline to share that information and help change the organization.

Mack: How should those who are reading this article get started at their organizations?

Blair: Before getting started, they should ask themselves, do I have senior management support? If not, that is the place to start. They need to focus on whether it is better to get that support first or to focus on some achievable goals to demonstrate mastery and show how the organization of information governance can benefit the enterprise on a large scale.

We hope to provide through our work at IGI concrete answers to these questions: How do I get started? What projects are people doing? Through our case studies and benchmarking, what worked and did not work? We’re trying to work with partners like our charter sponsor, ZyLAB, who own some piece of information governance.

Mack: Thank you, Barclay, and I will see you soon on the next webcast. And thank you to our clients, who provide the inspiration for ZyLAB to solve problems that matter to them now, and long into the future.

Please email the participants at or with questions about this webcast.