How to really treat information as an asset

In our data-driven world, one might expect that executives on both the business and operational side of the house would naturally assume ownership of information. It seems only logical, given that they look after so many other corporate asset.

But when it comes to information (and its underlying data), aside from a few information-centric enterprises such Google or Amazon, this is not the case.

Why not? In my experience, there are two reasons: the steady decline in the strategic role of IT, and the immaturity of business executives with regard to information.

These two trends have created a toxic mix of poor focus and an attitude that data and information are “just stuff” to managed at minimum cost.

To break this cycle of behavior, organisations must adapt their culture to treat information as an asset.

This can be accomplished by applying cultural adoption methods from the discipline of organisational change management (OCM).

This begins by articulating a new cultural value for the organisation: that this intangible asset that we call information must be treated as a precious and extremely valuable one.

That value must be promoted with a “top-down, bottom-up and middle-out” approach, in which all “influencers and owners” are engaged simultaneously.

It must recognised and reflected in every aspect of business operations: customer engagement, supplier and partner relations, research and development, competitive differentiation, products and services, branding, legal mitigation and more.

Only when the entire organization embraces the notion that “information is our most valuable asset” and that “each of us has personal stewardship responsibilities” can you realize the full measure of value that is manifest in your information resources.

Putting it into practice

I have applied these cultural adoption techniques in a number of organisations going back many years now. It is difficult to define an approach that will succeed for every type of organisation.

There are some early activities that help me size up the challenge, such as identifying champions and enabler in the C-Suite; assessing the organisation’s appetite and ability for change; and locating hidden pockets of information exploitation where change leaders can be identified.

The only change required to the organisational structure is to establish a governance body concern with oversight (doing the right things), as opposed to operations (doing things right). This body is responsible for guiding the management and exploitation of all information assets over their useful lifecycle.

Nowhere is there a requirement for a “data czar” or “chief data officer” who is accountable for all data. This single point of failure approach has no place in any organisation that truly believes (and behaves accordingly) the notion that “information is an asset”.

The idea of the chief data officer is one that has been fostered by technology side of the organisation. As such, it completely ignores the central issue that the business must assume its natural leadership accountability in managing and optimising all information assets over their natural lifecycle.

These responsibilities for stewardship must be led by the business in partnership with technology and must be embraced by everyone at a personal level. Only then can an enterprise claim that they “treat information as an asset”.

Richard Lee is the managing partner of IMECS, LLC, an executive consulting firm that works with senior executive teams in the domains of business transformation, governance, risk and compliance, advanced analytics and business Informatics. Prior to this role, Richard was the data governance officer at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) and director of its enterprise information transformation programme.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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