Note to IT: Time to Focus More on ‘I’ than ‘T’

Note to IT: Time to Focus More on ‘I’ than ‘T’

Somewhere in the late ‘90s the group responsible for computing and networking became known as “IT”, information technology. Prior to that it was called MIS (management information systems) or sometimes simply IS (information systems), and a part of the group’s role was managing information to support management decision making. I’m not sure what precipitated the change, but the focus of the group changed to managing technology and ensuring it could keep systems up and running to hit the “5-nines” target, 99.999% up time. That metric is purely about managing the technology and managing information took a back seat in the IT department. It’s an unfortunate evolution because the original definition of the CIO role was it to be the business executive capable of understanding the business and how information could be used by the organization for strategic advantage. It was originally very much like the role and responsibilities associated with the emergence of a new executive in the C-suite, the chief data officer (CDO).

Over the past two decades the technology focus of the IT organization has come at the unfortunate expense of effective information management and governance. This focus is reflected in the structure of IT in many companies, which are organized into groups such as networking, storage, servers and applications. IT departments have become quite capable of managing at the infrastructure level to keep lights blinking, but the majority are only capable of managing information at a macro level. That is they can tell you what business or application data is stored on a particular storage volume and its level of importance in the aggregate. If it’s business or mission critical they have well defined backup and disaster recovery processes to ensure that data can be restored in the event of system failure and data loss or corruption. However, today’s requirements to meet regulatory compliance, legal obligations and business needs necessitate that information be managed through its lifecycle more granularly, e.g. at the individual file level.

Transforming the role of IT to be more information centric presents a significant challenge given the atrophy in that skill set simply because it’s not been exercised over such a long period of time. As Big Data and analytics have risen as strategic tools for improving performance over the last several years, so too has the realization that IT isn’t the group that owns the responsibility for information management these initiatives require. It is also the reason the position of the CDO has become a reality in many organizations with more investigating the value of establishing this role. The potential benefit of effectively leveraging information for top-line benefit is a significant strategic weapon and the level of contribution is dependent on effective management and governance.

The important point here is that IT has a major role in the shifting landscape relative to information and has the opportunity to take the lead. However, this means IT must recognize the importance of other information stakeholders and take the initiative to engage with them and work together in defining a comprehensive approach. Transitioning to a greater focus on information is a significant undertaking and other stakeholders, e.g. Legal, Records & Information Management, and business users have an interest in driving a successful result as well.

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