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Information governance: Managing complexity

This article appears in the issue May/June 2019 [Volume 28, Issue 3]
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The ongoing dilemma of email governance

Considering how long email has been around, it is surprisingly neglected as content type. In one study conducted by AIIM, only one-fourth of respondents reported proactively managing their email. This is all the more concerning since a great deal of critical business information is contained in email messages—up to 60%, according to IDC.

Colligo Email Manager for SharePoint and Colligo Email Manager for Office 365 are solutions that allow users to drag and drop their emails into a window within Outlook to place them directly into SharePoint. “One of our strengths is in user adoption,” said Loic Triger, COO of Colligo. “Users are able to manage their emails while working within a familiar application.” As the content is migrated, it is tagged with metadata from the email such as sender and recipient, and customized metadata fields can be added, including metadata for attachments.

Although Microsoft has strengthened its email management services by enhancing email classification and labeling tools in Office 365, Colligo brings the labeling and retention management into users’ inboxes rather than requiring them to launch another application. Storing emails in SharePoint or Office 365 allows them to be accessed for operational purposes, classified for compliance, findable during e-discovery, and managed as records. Otherwise, they remain on individual computers and in email repositories such as Microsoft Exchange, which are not readily searchable. “The amount of information now stored in the cloud, along with its greater complexity, is making it all the more important to classify information for governance purposes,” concluded Triger. 

Achieving trusted governance

A leading producer of outdoor power equipment with hundreds of products on the market encompassing thousands of parts wanted to go beyond the traditional product information management (PIM) system it was using and implement a master data management (MDM) program. The company chose an MDM platform from Stibo Systems and began migrating to the new system.

Managing complexity was the task at hand, so the company started by dividing the project into stages, and describing the key information about parts and products. It systematically excluded information that was not essential or would not need to show up on a dashboard. In addition, it instituted a process that had rules to define information that would be considered obsolete for purposes of the new MDM system, so those attributes would not be stored unnecessarily.

Among the critical early steps was clearly defining roles. Information governance was handled by the director of MDM, who was the business owner of the tool. IT was the designated system owner, and the data was sourced at the division level, which was also responsible for data quality. Each division has a chief data steward who is accountable for the development of quality data.

A governance file defines every attribute that is available to link to an object, such as weights and dimensions. Subtleties such as a weight used on the manufacturing floor versus a weight that is used for shipping purposes are clearly distinguished. The data is used for multiple purposes, including posting on the website and in transactions.

The governance files are updated every few weeks to account for new products and parts. However, the document defining accountability has not changed in several years. This approach has stabilized the business with respect to tracking products. The governance rules provide a single source of truth about products. In addition, employees can send in questions via email and get them resolved. Over time, employees have developed a sense of trust and they know their concerns will be resolved.

For an organization just starting out or trying to improve its governance, this example provides several important insights. Functional accountability has been key to its success, with the governance file driving every attribute. Organizational accountability was also critical, with each group having clear responsibility. Finally, tools accountability meant that each group interacts with the software at a different level and in accordance with its role.

Stibo Group, the foundation that owns Stibo Systems, was established many years ago as a printing company that produced catalogs of products, and has evolved with the times to offer a platform that manages product and customer data, suppliers, location, and many other data domains. “It is no longer enough to just manage finished products,” said Maja Milutinovic, director, solution strategy at Stibo Systems. “The system must support new product development and sourcing as well, such as a product lifecycle management discipline, processes, and information, reaching back to the origination point of where data is first created.”

Many departments are still working in silos, according to Milutinovic. “Often, each department has its own unique needs, terminology, and systems of choice to optimize their area of work. However, what the company ends up with are several different systems that are not designed to work together—hence, the high need for consistency, collaboration, and governance.” From a product MDM perspective, providing end-to-end visibility requires the development of business rules—for example, determining that “person” equals “customer,” in order to reconcile the differences across departments.

Once this is accomplished, a product can move through the phases of development, marketing, and sales, with full visibility and traceability, and collaboration across departments. “Having the full product lifecycle from design to sale managed on a single platform also allows for continuous improvement and the enablement of 360-degree views of your products and customers,” Milutinovic said.

The need for information governance is certain to persist, and organizations that have not yet tackled this task in a serious way should take a strongly proactive approach going forward. The benefits are significant: improved operations, increased quality of goods, reduced risk, and cost savings.

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