Information governance for counties and municipalities

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ransom for mongodb 100703363 large - Information governance for counties and municipalities

What’s your municipal organization’s most valuable asset?

The correct answer is information, but you wouldn’t know it by observing the casual, haphazard manner in which information is managed in many county and municipal operations. Information is often the least valued and least understood asset in local government organizations.

Tangible assets such as buildings and equipment are insured and can be replaced with relative ease. If your data vanishes, you may never be able to replace it. A breach of confidential information can never be made right and your organization’s reputation will be tarnished for years to come. Litigation that results from poor information management can cripple your organization, and the cost of discovery alone often forces organizations to settle.

The core problem

Does your municipal organization have a formal information governance (IG) program?

Most municipal entities don’t have IG programs and consequently lack institutional, enterprisewide understanding of their information assets. The root of the problem is a dearth of leadership in information management that starts with senior executives and elected officials. In many cases, there are departmental managers who do understand their own information universes, but those individuals rarely carry enough clout to influence the decision-making processes at the enterprise level.

“Jeff, hold the phone! We already have a records management program and a CIO. We’re on top of this.”

IG defined

Information governance isn’t records management, although records management is a subset of IG. Robert Smallwood provides an excellent definition of information governance: “Security, control and optimization of information.”[i] He takes it a step further and writes “Information governance is policy-based control of information to meet all legal, regulatory, risk, and business demands.”[ii] These two statements sound simple, but if you ponder their meanings a bit, they have enormous implications not only for information management in your organization, but for the way in which your entire organization is managed.

The role of the municipal CIO

In my experience, municipal IT operations are often poorly aligned with the business divisions they support and silos are an endemic problem in such organizations. I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush because there are plenty of CIOs who do understand their organizations’ business and information requirements. However, in municipal government, such people are rare.

While the title chief information officer implies a deep understanding of information, many municipal CIOs function more as technology directors and sometimes they more closely resemble purchasing managers or other roles. Since there is no universal definition of a CIO’s role, it is not reasonable to expect that they all come to their job with a clear understanding of information governance. Moreover, municipalities can have several dozen lines of business, each with its own set of complex regulatory requirements, so asking your CIO to be a Master of the Universe may be asking too much.

The solution: What IG can do for your organization

If you don’t have an IG program, I encourage you to start one. I am talking about creating an ecumenical view of your organization’s information assets and aligning that view with your business requirements at every level of your organization. Establishing such a program will allow you to build a superstructure that includes the following:

  • Enterprise information management and strategic planning: auditing, risk management, records retention, metadata standardization, storage, FOIA, defensible deletion, eradication of silos and more.
  • Enterprise information security (infosec) and cybersecurity: Develop policies, processes and procedures for security that are aligned with your organization’s risks and requirements. Create a culture of security in your organization. Vastly decrease security risks.
  • IT service management (ITSM): Improve IT services by aligning them with the organization’s business requirements as determined by the IG committee. IT governance is often treated in county and municipal government as if it is somehow separate, but IT may be more productive if it is treated as a component of an overarching information governance program.

The IG committee

I am not a proponent of management by committee, but in a county or municipal setting with many lines of business, an information governance committee is appropriate not only to oversee information policies and procedures, but to provide guidance and oversight for IT operations as well. The makeup of your municipal IG committee will resemble the following:

  • An executive sponsor: Preferably the county executive, city manager or similar role.
  • An elected official: A county commissioner, city council member, etc. The primary governing board must be key part of IG team.
  • The municipal attorney.
  • A human resources official.
  • Auditor(s).
  • An IT professional.
  • A risk management specialist.
  • A records management staffer.
  • Representatives from other key departments, potentially including law enforcement, corrections, nursing home services, public health, mental health, social services the county recorder, etc.

References and resources

Following are links to some resources for more information about developing an IG program.

ARMA International, a not-for-profit association for professionals specializing in governing information as a strategic asset.

Information Governance Initiative, a forum for information governance professionals.

AIIM, a nonprofit membership organization for information professionals.

Institute for Information Governance, a provider of training in the fields of information governance and electronic records management.

EDRM, a provider of resources related to e-discovery and information governance. Part of the Duke Law Center for Judicial Studies.

Works cited

“Defining the Differences Between Information Governance, IT Governance and Data Governance,” by Robert Smallwood, Aug. 18, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from the AIIM website.

Information Governance for Executives, by Robert Smallwood. Bacchus Business Books, 2016.

[i] Smallwood, Robert. Information Governance for Executives, 2016

[ii] Smallwood, Robert. “Defining the Differences Between Information Governance, IT Governance and Data Governance,” 2014

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