The information enterprise: new challenges new dimensions: RIM professionals have many opportunities to influence the development of a stronger profession and their own programs.

Author:Dearstyne, Bruce
Position:Records and information management
 
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At the Core

This article

* describes seven issues important to RIM professionals

* Tells how RIM professionals can address these issues

* Encourages RIM professionals to help shape the profession

The systematic management of records and other information continues to grow in complexity, placing records and information management (RIM) professionals at the center of growing challenges and opportunities. Paul Light, in his book The Four Pillars of High Performance: How Robust Organizations Achieve Extraordinary Results, writes, "... high-performing organizations saturate themselves with information.... information [is] an essential resource for performance." Information enterprise is a good term to describe the strategic centrality of information in organizations. There is, however, a performance gap between what is and what might be. information is inadequately managed and underworked in many organizations. This article explores several current issues where RIM professionals can advance their own programs and strengthen strategic information management in general.

  1. Help Organizations Reduce "Information Squandering"

    Information is important but, ironically, in most organizations, particularly where the influence of information professionals is circumscribed, information is often mismanaged, misunderstood,

    squandered, or regarded as a financial burden rather than as an asset. A few recent examples of what might be called "information squandering":

    * A California driver renewing his automobile registration discovered that the department of motor vehicle's registration office could not access the records of the bureau of automotive repair's office where his car's smog certificate was on electronic file. He had to print out the certificate and mail it to the registration office. This was just one (extreme) example of "outdated and inconvenient.... antiquated and fragmented" information systems that left the nation's largest, wealthiest state "stuck in 20th century technology and business practices" and saddled with hundreds of "stovepipe" systems for e-mail, human resources, and procurement, according to a California performance review called Tools for the Digital Age.

    * The 9/11 Commission report is a case study in information hoarding, fumbled handoffs between agencies, and incompatible systems. The report was particularly critical of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) uncoordinated and outmoded systems. " ... the FBI's information systems were woefully inadequate. The FBI lacked the ability to know what it knew" reported the Washington Post in a January 14 article. More than three years after the attacks, a new $170 million FBI software system designed to help agents share information and access case files was scrapped before it was implemented because it was poorly designed and dysfunctional, the Post reported.

    * Congress created a new agency to coordinate and streamline intelligence gathering and sharing, but its task seemed daunting. " ... we are incapable of storing, moving, and accessing information" declared Rep. Tom Davis, chair of the House government reform committee. "We spend $150 billion a year on information technology. You'd think we could share information by now. But we are still an analog government in a digital economy and culture.... The optimal weapon is information.... moved to the right people at the right place at the right time."

    * The British investigation of how that government was so mistaken about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq found many examples of misreading the information, exaggerating the significance of isolated pieces of information, reaching conclusions based on flimsy evidence, and stretching thin information to make it more impressive.

    * The U.S. commission investigating the American intelligence failure in Iraq reported that most of the information used by the Bush administration to justify the war was either worthless or misleading. For example, intelligence agencies failed to question key information that turned out to be unreliable from an Iraqi defector known as "Curveball." The commission cites " ... a lack of [intelligence] community focus on intelligence missions" which led to lack of sharing and a scattering of attention. "The fundamental barriers to information sharing are not a matter of technology; they arise from the legal, policy, and cultural 'rules' that pervade the system. That is why information sharing cannot be a matter of issuing one edict or adopting one technology," the commission's report said.

    Several common factors account for this pattern of stunted use of information: missing leadership from the top or pressure to move too fast, cut corners, and skew the evidence to reach a conclusion the leader has signaled he or she favors; complacency with existing systems; a culture of information hoarding rather than sharing; adoption of technological "fixes" instead of addressing underlying business processes and goals; and inattention to fundamental information management practices such as usable filing systems and records schedules. RIM professionals...

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