That old saying “knowledge is power” is one that all of us are very familiar with, whether it’s from work, school, or life. Gaining that insight or competitive edge by accessing and consuming information can help everyone make better-informed opinions and decisions and improve potential outcomes. But as more and more data is saved and consumed across organizations, it also becomes harder to find the right information when you need it.
When it comes to managing your information within an organization, that “insider’s gold” needs to be easily leveraged by your employees so that the latest and greatest insights can be a key part of what makes your company successful. But how can a company ensure that all of this is managed in a centralized location? The answer is information management.
Let’s look at the three keys to securing a competitive advantage with your company’s information.
1. Deploy federated search capabilities
What’s the use of having “insider’s gold” in your information if you can’t find it when you need it? This is where federated search comes in. Federated search allows knowledge workers to search multiple collections of text at the same time, making it easier for employees to find the data they need to excel at their jobs and improve business performance.
So how does it work? Most organizations have information stored on several different repositories – including network shares, hard disk drives, and cloud-based storage systems – that can soon become a complex, disparate web. Rather than wasting time searching for a particular document in each of these repositories, federated search allows knowledge workers to go through every repository at once. This increases the speed employees can retrieve information and act on the insight contained within it, which not only helps employees work smarter, but also improves client relationships by having access to the information they require at your fingertips.
2. Maximize the value of data
To become a successful digital organization in today’s increasingly turbulent business landscape, companies need a strategy to not only easily discover the information housed within the organization, but also maximize the value of critical data. We have already established that knowledge is power, but failure to value and manage data can leave knowledge work businesses open to losses because of improper security, problems with sharing and collaborating, and poor data quality.
By instituting an information management strategy, companies can often improve inefficiencies within their business and reveal opportunities to improve revenues. This can include enforcing better integration with marketing and sales systems to improve customer service or learning the market value of your data and offering new services based on that information, which all create additional revenue streams. However, the biggest gain from maximizing the value of your data can often be felt within your organization. Management can learn to recognize trends and pinpoint problems by using data as business intelligence, enhancing organizational efficiency, and establishing new strategies to help the business exceed its goals.
3. Keep your data secure and compliant
The best information management strategies do more than simply relieve companies of the burden of finding information. They enable employees to gain insight from that information and secure it to reduce business risk and ensure the company remains compliant with data privacy regulations. Most businesses consider compliance a burden, but it should be looked at as an opportunity to win and retain customers. Prioritizing data privacy protection can be a major competitive differentiator.
Businesses, especially in heavily regulated industries like finance or health care, need to set and enforce governance rules and company policies to ensure only authorized people can view and share sensitive information. The added benefit? Governance rules can make it easier to keep audit trails that can be accessed at any time. Therefore, when a customer or regulator asks for evidence about a potential data privacy issue, the organization can easily pull the information requested in real-time to avoid hefty fines.
Focusing on compliance not only increases customer loyalty by ensuring data rights are being respected, but it can also help with data cleansing, which can improve efficiency. Creating a data map of the organization can help streamline operations by eliminating “ROT” – redundant, obsolete, and trivial data that can eat up storage and bog down processes – and ensure customer information is kept up to date.
By deploying an effective information management strategy, organizations can use their information to make more informed business decisions, improve customer loyalty, and create new revenue streams. Information is the golden ticket to help increase competitive advantage and improve the bottom line – you just need to know how to use it and protect it.
According to Gartner, information contributes at least 20-25% of an average organization’s value today. Studies have uncovered countless ways to use data as an asset to help improve businesses by reducing costs, improving customer satisfaction, and managing risks. Along with the paradigm shift towards valuing information as an asset, companies also need to find opportunities to maximize its worth by focusing more upon data governance. The rapid escalation in the number of information organizations need to handle makes governance even more critical.
How Data Volume and Value Make Data Governance Essential
Data governance covers everything related to managing the security, accessibility, quality, and usability of information within an organization. For example, it includes steps taken to ensure businesses have reliable, protected, and accurate information to make better decisions and help serve customers. A governance plan generally includes policies and the tools to implement and enforce those rules.
As quoted on TechTarget, Gartner analyst Andrew White said that most of all, good governance don’t stand alone. Instead, businesses should consider it a core piece of their strategy to achieve overall business goals.
HubSpot created a simple but compelling infographic to illustrate how the rising tide of the volume, value, and even a variety of data underscores the importance of data governance. Some figures they published include:
- Out of all data created in the world, 90 percent has been generated within the past two years, an escalating trend that will almost certainly continue.
- Typical organizations spend 3.5 to 7.0 percent of their overall revenue on information technology. For example, a company with $100 million in revenue might expend up to $7 million just on managing information.
- Out of organizations polled, three-quarters viewed information governance as a critical factor to their success.
- At the same time as most of the information workers viewed information management as vital, less than half thought that top executives understood the importance of governance the as very important.
The Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM) contributed the statistics used in the infographic. They also noted a trend that the most high-performing businesses strove to integrate governance into their overall strategy, so that supports Andrew White’s point above.
More specifically, 42 percent of these high performers already had robust plans in place and another 24 percent had made plans to follow. Of the rest, 13 percent had begun their efforts with only some departments, 16 percent had policies that were still in incubation, and only five percent had no formal governance policies at all.
The Future of Improved Data Governance
Traditionally, businesses set information governance policies crafted to reduce risks. For example, these companies wanted to ensure they protected and managed their data to avoid compliance problems and to preserve high-quality information for reporting. According to AIIM, today’s high-performing companies would also add the additional benefits of improving customer service, responding faster to changes, and to make better decisions through analytics and high-quality data.
To improve information governance, AIIM suggested including three vital steps:
- Establish an IG team: Start with top leadership and include critical stakeholders and of course, the IT department. Make certain employees understand how managing, controlling, and protecting information will improve business and in turn, their own situations. Keep the door open for feedback on initial plans to all levels.
- Audit existing information: Organizations need to understand, classify, and audit their information to have any chance of assigning both value and risk. This process can offer you all sorts of value because you will know which sorts of data you should spend the most on protecting, storing, and accessing and which data you might invest less in archiving. Sometimes, you may uncover valuable data that you could use if you only knew it existed.
- Weed out what you don’t need: Information ROT refers to the kind of redundant, obsolete, and trivial data that can bog down your storage, systems, and processes. According to Veritas, a storage tech company, about one-third of all data stored will never be useful or used. Another 50 percent is considered “dark data” with no known value. Together, these provide no value and run up cumulative excess costs of trillions of dollars worldwide. Alternatively, you may find some of this dark data valuable and realize you need to invest more in protecting and using it.
Choose the Right Technology to Support Information Governance
At M-Files, we built our business around the importance of helping our customers control and manage information through its lifecycle. With automatic and even AI-enabled features, this system lets you manage records from conception to eventual deletion or archival. You can even set security and processing features that ensure compliance with your company’s governance policies and most efficient business procedures. At the same time, editing rules will maintain data quality and reduce human error. Even better, you can turn to one interface to find anything, no matter where it’s stored or even from which remote location you need to access it from.
You and your team can focus on the challenging task of creating good information governance policies and processes. After that, you can set rules within M-Files to ensure they’re enforced. Give us a chance to show you exactly how M-Files will improve your governance and overall business by contacting us today with your questions or requests for a demo or free trial.
According to figures, before COVID, only 7% of workers in the U.S. had access to a “flexible workplace” benefit or telework. Now, 64% of US employees are working from home now, according to research conducted by SHRM’s COVID-19 Business Index.
This swelling of remote work is spurring many organizations to reevaluate their suite of business applications and tech solutions. In a TechRepublic article this year, Mike Vance, VP of IT at KSM Consulting says:
“It means evaluating what systems you have and how you can potentially migrate to the cloud, even in this [remote] environment. Your IT professionals still have the access that they need to do that work. Streamlining their tech stack is also aligned with what your core business function is, the systems that support that, and ensuring they are resilient and ready to function as they need it to.”
Vance continues to lay out a simple process for IT organizations to right-size their tech stacks in these strange and unprecedented times — a process certainly worth recapping.
Step 1: Conduct an Audit of Your Tech Stack
The first suggestion and natural starting point is to assess which constituents of your tech stack are actually needed. Vance suggests deploying employee surveys to assess which solutions are most useful and most utilized.
“I’d be doing them probably the first couple of weeks… I would analyze the results, figure out what you need to dive into deeper to make sure they’re fully productive. Then move that to biweekly for a month and then monthly until we get out of this window,” Vance says. “You could uncover a lot of things in regard to preparedness in organizations that they didn’t know before.”
Step 2: Develop a Feasibility Matrix
The next step is to collect qualitative data from the IT staff and use that data to put together a feasibility matrix — which analyzes responses from the employee surveys to determine which tech solutions are critical. From there, define which of those are feasible to continue using in a remote work environment.
Again, Vance guides us to the most critical consideration in assessing software solutions in a remote work environment:
What is the feasibility and how does it balance with the ROI of that solution?
In other words… “What’s the return I get out of making this investment during this time? How hard is it to get it? Is it even feasible to have this while being remote?”
Vance goes on to highlight the importance of collaboration and communication solutions to a remote work tech stack, while balancing them with diligent information security practices to minimize the risk brought on by remote work.
Step 3: Eliminate Redundant, Unnecessary Applications and SaaS Licenses
An organization’s tech stack is an ever-evolving organism. Many organizations keep adding to their suite of tech solutions — which naturally means a bloating of data stores and information repositories. It also means that there are SaaS solutions that aren’t being used much anymore and licenses which can be cut from the budget.
With an audit and resulting feasibility matrix in tow, IT departments can start to execute on that information and retool their tech stacks, trimming the applications that are unnecessary and cutting down on redundant SaaS licenses.
The Glue that Binds the Enterprise Tech Stack: Information Management
As mentioned a moment ago, as the tech stack grows, so too does the amount of information, data, files and documents that are a natural by-product of doing business. Not only does the amount of information grow, usually the number of repositories grows, as well.
Think about it. If an organization standardizes and adds a communication tool, a collaboration tool, and a project management tool, for example, that’s three more silos where information will be housed.
To combat this information sprawl, organizations should consider an intelligent information management platform like M-Files. With M-Files, information and files can live wherever they need to live. M-Files connects to existing repositories, presenting information to users based on what it is, not where it is. It allows users to perform Google-like searches for critical information across the entire information ecosystem.
M-Files also helps enforce companywide information security and governance protocols, even in a remote work environment. By layering M-Files as an umbrella over the entire tech stack, compliance is preserved, and only authorized personnel have access to sensitive information.
Ultimately, intelligent information management underpins the enterprise tech stack and can be scaled along with it as companies right-size that tech stack.
In July, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) published a policy brief with some tremendous evidence-based information on potential productivity gains from teleworking in the post-COVID-19 era.
First, four key themes from the piece — supported by data and evidence — are:
- Remote work may be a permanent fixture after COVID-19.
- Remote work varies substantially across countries, sectors, occupations and firms.
- In the long run, remote work has the potential to improve productivity and worker well-being but carries some ambiguity and risk in its overall impact.
- To minimize risk of harming long-term innovation and worker well-being, remote work should be a choice and not “overdone”.
We wanted to take a moment to give you an abbreviated synopsis of some of the more interesting, actionable findings.
Remote Work Affects Productivity in These 2 Main Channels
Perhaps one of the most compelling sections of the report, it lays out the two main factors that shape the impact of telework on firms and staff.
Telework can improve or hamper firm performance, with its overall effect depending importantly on two main channels:
- A direct channel affects firm performance through changing the efficiency, motivation, and knowledge creation of the workforce.
- An indirect channel is for telework to facilitate cost reductions that free up resources for productivity enhancing innovation and reorganization.
Will Remote Work Improve or Harm Your Firm? These are the 4 Determining Factors
According to the model above, there are four main factors that will determine whether remote work will help or hurt your firm’s productivity:
1 | Worker Satisfaction
This one can break two different ways. “Telework can improve firm performance by raising worker satisfaction and thus worker efficiency, e.g. through better work-life balance, less commuting or fewer distractions leading to more focused work or less absenteeism. It is, however, also possible that worker satisfaction decreases with telework, e.g. due to solitude, hidden overtime and a fusing of private and work life, or an inappropriate working environment at home.”
Thus, it is important to give workers the choice to work remotely and offer a flexible work environment where employees can choose what’s best for themselves.
2 | Cost Reductions
Telework can also improve firm performance through facilitating cost reductions. A few ways this happens:
- Lower capital costs by reducing office space and equipment required by the company
- Labor costs can be reduced as telework enlarges the pool of workers firms can choose from
- Hiring costs may decrease if higher worker satisfaction reduces voluntary quits and turnover
- Potentially attract workers at lower wages than would otherwise be the case – in particular if combined with other measures that improve work-life-balance such as flexible hours – to the extent workers are willing to give up a higher salary in return for these amenities
3 | Communication
The report points out that the reduction in in-person interactions — and communication quality, in general — can hamper productivity. “A wide range of evidence supports the notion that personal meetings allow for more effective communication than more remote forms such as emails, chat, or phone calls. For instance, personal communication has been shown to be more convincing, to attract more attention, or to better allow observing social clues. Disruptive forms of communication may surge to compensate for the lack of personal communication, e.g. increased email traffic or virtual meetings.”
4 | Knowledge Flows
This factor is near and dear to us here at M-Files. The lack of personal interaction can decrease knowledge flows among employees. At M-Files, a few cornerstones of our information management solution are:
- The ability to share information easily with colleagues
- Improving the discoverability of critical, helpful information
- The flow of information between individuals, departments, business units and external parties
Workers learn from in-person encounters with colleagues — water cooler chats, dropping by a teammate’s office — and that interaction cannot be understated. The report says: “Innovation depends importantly on the sharing of knowledge: ‘What each individual knows is less important. What counts is collective knowledge.’”
To compensate in a remote work environment, firms should realign their digitization efforts to promote knowledge sharing in the absence of interpersonal engagement. And to that end, information management tools like M-Files are absolutely critical to ensure a healthy knowledge flow.
In Remote Work Environments, there is a Point of Diminishing Returns
The report goes on to explain that there is indeed a point of diminishing returns with teleworking. In summary, worker satisfaction increases in a remote work environment — enough to offset potentially negative effects on communication, knowledge flows and managerial oversight.
“The relative strength of these channels in turn is likely to depend on the intensity of telework: the negative effect due to the lack of personal interactions likely becomes stronger with telework intensity, as opportunities for in-person communication diminish, while worker satisfaction improves with low levels of telework but may suffer from ‘excessive’ teleworking, e.g. due to solitude or a fusing of private and professional life.”
Thus, there is a sweet spot for maximizing productivity. Not offering remote work is bad. Too much remote work is bad, also.
Ultimately, firms must ascertain for themselves where that point of diminishing returns is and aim to create a more flexible workplace where employees have the option to choose whichever volume of remote work suits them best.
And to maintain productivity, they need to be equipped with digital solutions like communication, collaboration and information management — at the very minimum.
What Exactly is Information Lifecycle Management (ILM)?
“Information lifecycle management (ILM) is the effort to oversee data, from creation through retirement, in order to optimize its utility, lower costs, as well as minimize the legal and compliance risks that may be introduced through that data.
“ILM involves storage optimization as well as strategies to improve data quality and security. Finally, a strong information lifecycle management practice will proactively control data retention and disposal in accordance with business policy.”
Why is Information Lifecycle Management Important?
Most organizations don’t leverage their information effectively. There are varied statistics out there but one assessment says that 60-73% of company data goes unused. It lies dormant in some repository, forgotten about, taking up space that costs money and may even violate compliance requirements.
Ultimately, the information your organization creates is one of its most important assets. A good strategy must carefully manage and protect that information, particularly when customers have entrusted it to you. The past decade has seen the advent of evolving regulatory compliance and privacy requirements — like GDPR and CCPA — which now sit at a crossroads with an upsurge in digital data volume.
Companies must sustain good governance policies over rapidly increasing quantities of information. This is not an effort that can be delayed. The most prosperous businesses of the next decade will be those that can locate, categorize, and enforce control over their information.
The consequences of doing nothing (or very little) can have vast and amplified effects on the organization at-large over time. When it comes to enterprise information, they need to secure it, deduplicate it, and dispose of it at the proper time. Serious consequences include:
- Legal and regulatory exposure. Many regulations specify how long data must be kept. There’s no benefit to keeping it longer and, in fact, could present risk if sensitive information is still discoverable past its useful lifetime.
- Cost. A Veritas study estimated that poor information governance will create 1 billion of avoidable storage and management costs worldwide by 2020. Unnecessary data storage costs money.
- Access. Obsolete or irrelevant information mixed in with critical information slows down access and creates the potential for confusion and errors.
Information Lifecycle Management Visualized
Our friends at Iron Mountain published an infographic which succinctly lays out a 5-step information lifecycle management path. Businesses are creating a massive volume of information, but what happens to those documents? Are they handled appropriately? Are the disposed of or taking up costly space on a server somewhere?
Take a look at the infographic and follow the path:
The concept that Iron Mountain visualized is that documents and information should have a defined lifecycle with five steps — encompassed by awareness of compliance measures.
- Create. Create information and classify it with metadata according to organizational standards.
- Use. Make information available to certain individuals and applications in support of organizational goals and obligations.
- Retain. Protect information by storing it in secure repositories according to retention policy.
- Preserve. Safeguard information to meet legal, regulatory, operational and archival requirements.
- Dispose. Destroy or archive information at the end of its useful life according to formal procedure.
Simplifying Information Lifecycle Management
Regrettably, many organizations — even large ones — depend on manual processes for information lifecycle management and that makes the process slow and inaccurate. M-Files can automate much of the process to free up staff time to work on more strategic projects. It can also save time and headaches in the event of a discovery demand or regulatory request.
The M-Files intelligent information management platform has a role in all five phases of the information lifecycle, simplifying every process, and here’s how:
At the inception point of a document, it can be classified with metadata — even with the help of built-in AI — and governance rules can be applied with workflow rules to flag that information for proper archival after its useful lifetime.
With customizable, dynamic permissions, access rights are controlled tightly, and usage policy is inherently well-defined.
M-Files offers a cloud, on-premise or hybrid deployment allowing for flexibility and security in data storage — aligned with any compliance or governance policies.
If information needs to be retained in accordance with regulatory requirements, M-Files can safeguard that information for any specified length of time.
A simple governance workflow can automatically destroy or archive information at the end of its useful life — or notify an information manager to act on that data.