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Losing Weight, Developing an Information Governance Plan, and Other New Year’s Resolutions

by Dean Gonsowski on January 17th, 2012

It’s already a few weeks into the new year and it’s easy to spot the big lines at the gym, folks working on fad diets and many swearing off any number of vices.  Sadly perhaps, most popular resolutions don’t even really change year after year.  In the corporate world, though, it’s not good enough to simply recycle resolutions every year since there’s a lot more at stake, often with employee’s bonuses and jobs hanging in the balance.

It’s not too late to make information governance part of the corporate 2012 resolution list.  The reason is pretty simple – most companies need to get out of the reactive firefighting of eDiscovery given the risks of sloppy work, inadvertent productions and looming sanctions.  Yet, so many are caught up in the fog of eDiscovery war that they’ve failed to see the nexus between the upstream, proactive good data management hygiene and the downstream eDiscovery chaos.

In many cases the root cause is the disconnect between differing functional groups (Legal, IT, Information Security, Records Management, etc.).  This is where the emerging umbrella concept of Information Governance comes to play, serving as a way to tackle these information risks along a unified front. Gartner defines information governanceas the:

“specification of decision rights, and an accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archiving and deletion of information, … [including] the processes, roles, standards, and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information to enable an organization to achieve its goals.”

Perhaps more simply put, what were once a number of distinct disciplines—records management, data privacy, information security and eDiscovery—are rapidly coming together in ways that are important to those concerned with mitigating and managing information risk. This new information governance landscape is comprised of a number of formerly discrete categories:

  • Regulatory Risks – Whether an organization is in a heavily regulated vertical or not, there are a host of regulations that an organization must navigate to successfully stay in compliance.  In the United States these include a range of disparate regimes, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, HIPPA, the Securities and Exchange Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and other specialized regulations – any number of which require information to be kept in a prescribed fashion, for specified periods of time.  Failure to turn over information when requested by regulators can have dramatic financial consequences, as well as negative impacts to an organization’s reputation.
  • Discovery Risks – Under the discovery realm there are any number of potential risks as a company moves along the EDRM spectrum (i.e., Identification, Preservation, Collection, Processing, Analysis, Review and Production), but the most lethal risk is typically associated with spoliation sanctions that arise from the failure to adequately preserve electronically stored information (ESI).  There have been literally hundreds of cases where both plaintiffs and defendants have been caught in the judicial crosshairs, resulting in penalties ranging from outright case dismissal to monetary sanctions in the millions of dollars, simply for failing to preserve data properly.  It is in this discovery arena that the failure to dispose of corporate information, where possible, rears its ugly head since the eDiscovery burden is commensurate with the amount of data that needs to be preserved, processed and reviewed.  Some statistics show that it can cost as much as $5 per document just to have an attorney privilege review performed.  And, with every gigabyte containing upwards of 75,000 pages, it is easy to see massive discovery liability when an organization has terabytes and even petabytes of extraneous data lying around.
  • Privacy Risks – Even though the US has a relatively lax information privacy climate there are any number of laws that require companies to notify customers if their personally identifiable information (PII) such as credit card, social security, or credit numbers have been compromised.  For example, California’s data breach notification law (SB1386) mandates that all subject companies must provide notification if there is a security breach to the electronic database containing PII of any California resident.  It is easy to see how unmanaged PII can increase corporate risk, especially as data moves beyond US borders to the international stage where privacy regimes are much more staunch.
  • Information Security Risks Data breaches have become so commonplace that the loss/theft of intellectual property has become an issue for every company, small and large, both domestically and internationally.  The cost to businesses of unintentionally exposing corporate information climbed 7 percent last year to over $7 million per incident.  Recently senators asked the SEC to “issue guidance regarding disclosure of information security risk, including material network breaches” since “securities law obligates the disclosure of any material network breach, including breaches involving sensitive corporate information that could be used by an adversary to gain competitive advantage in the marketplace, affect corporate earnings, and potentially reduce market share.”  The senators cited a 2009 survey that concluded that 38% of Fortune 500 companies made a “significant oversight” by not mentioning data security exposures in their public filings.

Information governance as an umbrella concept helps organizations to create better alignment between functional groups as they attempt to solve these complex and interrelated data risk challenges.  This coordination is even more critical given the way that corporate data is proliferating and migrating beyond the firewall.  With even more data located in the cloud and on mobile devices a key mandate is managing data in all types of form factors. A great first step is to determine ownership of a consolidated information governance approach where the owner can:

  • Get C-Level buy-in
  • Have the organizational savvy to obtain budget
  • Be able to define “reasonable” information governance efforts, which requires both legal and IT input
  • Have strong leadership and consensus building skills, because all stakeholders need to be on the same page
  • Understand the nuances of their business, since an overly rigid process will cause employees to work around the policies and procedures

Next, tap into and then leverage IT or information security budgets for archiving, compliance and storage.  In most progressive organizations there are likely ongoing projects that can be successfully massaged into a larger information governance play.  A great place to focus on initially is information archiving, since this one of the simplest steps an organization can take to improve their information governance hygiene.  With an archive organizations can systematically index, classify and retain information and thus establish a proactive approach to data management.  It’s this ability to apply retention and (most importantly) expiration policies that allows organizations to start reducing the upstream data deluge that will inevitably impact downstream eDiscovery processes.

Once an archive is in place, the next logical step is to couple a scalable, reactive eDiscovery process with the upstream data sources, which will axiomatically include email, but increasingly should encompass cloud content, social media, unstructured data, etc.  It is important to make sure  that a given  archive has been tested to ensure compatibility with the chosen eDiscovery application to guarantee that it can collect content at scale in the same manner used to collect from other data sources.  Overlaying both of these foundational pieces should be the ability to place content on legal hold, whether that content exists in the archive or not.

As we enter 2012, there is no doubt that information governance should be an element in building an enterprise’s information architecture.  And, different from fleeting weight loss resolutions, savvy organizations should vow to get ahead of the burgeoning categories of information risk by fully embracing their commitment to integrated information governance.  And yet, this resolution doesn’t need to encompass every possible element of information governance.  Instead, it’s best to put foundational pieces into place and then build the rest of the infrastructure in methodical and modular fashion.

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