Celebrate the Success Stories of Knowledge Management - 2022 KMWorld Awards

  • April 3, 2017
  • By Marydee Ojala Marydee Ojala, Conference Program Director, Information Today, Inc
  • Article

Questioning Traditional Compliance Methods

The other day I saw an old and faded bumper sticker on the car ahead of me at a stop light. It said, “Question Authority.”

I haven’t seen one of those in, well, I can’t remember how many years. It seems to me it was a popular bumper sticker “back in the day.” Not being sure how many years ago my “back in the day” was, I looked at Wikipedia. It told me that the philosophy of questioning authority could, possibly, be traced back to Socrates. An admirable pedigree, but I’m pretty sure that bumper stickers did not exist in ancient Greece. Wikipedia then credits the bumper sticker popularization to Timothy Leary, he of “turn in, tune in, drop out” fame, and works the resignation of President Nixon into the mix, claiming that Question Authority was “arguably the most accepted form of ideology among baby boomers.”

This entire Wikipedia entry exemplifies why many people, myself included, often question the authority of Wikipedia.

Knowing Policies, Rules, and Regulations

The notion of questioning authority rests, paradoxically, on a thorough understanding of the policies, rules, and regulations being called into question. I’ll assume that those who question authority rely on knowing what individual policies, rules, and regulations entail and why they are in place, rather than indiscriminately deciding that no policies, rules, or regulations are valid.

Many of the rules under which we live make perfect sense. Someone who drives through a red light is at risk of being hit by another vehicle, resulting in a wrecked car and life-threatening injuries or even death. Would you want to travel on an airplane when the flight crew decides to ignore the rule about closing the door before takeoff? How about buying tainted food at the grocery store or adulterated medicines?

Granted, sometimes policies, rules, and regulations can become outdated, superfluous, or otherwise unneeded. A Dilbert cartoon series running in March 2017 pokes fun at silly corporate policies when Dilbert is denied vacation leave until he completes a mandatory course on fax machine safety, which his company no longer offers. I recommend not trying to imagine what might be covered in a course about fax machine safety or why a company would ever have required it; I couldn’t come up with much, but that’s why Dilbert is a comic strip rather than real life.

Rare instances exist where Dilbert seems to have intruded into real life. A law firm recently asked for help in locating a government statistic published by one federal agency that is required by another federal agency for a particular filing. The hitch? Federal agency #1 no longer publishes that number. Something is going to have to be adjusted for the firm to be in compliance.

Complying With Policies, Rules, and Regulations

Within companies, compliance with policies, rules, and regulations is a fact of life. Regardless of what employees might think about it, compliance is mandatory, particularly when it is imposed by regulatory agencies external to the company. The consequences of non-compliance are steep, but that doesn’t preclude employees from questioning whether there’s a better, more efficient way to handle the compliance scenarios.

When it comes to applying new technologies to existing content management procedures, the notion of questioning authority can have beneficial results. It’s a good opportunity to get away from the “business as usual” routine. Just because a company has always handled content management with manual tools doesn’t mean, in today’s world, it should keep doing so. “Because we’ve always done it that way” is not a good rational for continuing to do it that way. Companies evolve. Technology to help companies evolves.

As Brendan English points out, in the accompanying white paper, the idea of manually tagging content is highly inefficient, time consuming, and a poor use of resources. Companies stuck with what English deems “monolithic and cumbersome” policy layers deserve better. The idea of considering policies, rules, and regulations from the very beginning of content creation ensures that content is optimized not only for compliance but also for streamlined access to relevant information internally.

Policy-driven content enhances information delivery, retention and archiving, and redaction. Employees can quickly gain access to the important information they need to do their jobs while remaining in compliance with any applicable policies, rules, and regulations. Records management policies ensure that information is kept for the designated time period in proper repositories. Sensitive information is restricted from general view and protected against possible leaks.

Managing Content Within Policy Constraints Can Produce an Efficient Knowledge Management System

Questions can be raised about the appropriate place to store records, from a compliance perspective, but these can be resolved on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, the authority to divulge or restrict certain pieces of information can change over time depending on circumstances. A flexible system can cope with these changes. Managing content within policy constraints can actually result in a more efficient and effective knowledge management system, one that not only results in compliance with policies, rules, and regulations, but also provides streamlined access to information.

If you want to question the traditional compliance methods of your company, a combination of carrot and stick approaches is called for. Certainly you can appeal to fear as a catalyst for change, noting the dire consequences of non-compliance with regulations specific to your industry and the more-sweeping ones of privacy on an international scale. But don’t forget about the positive results of an improved content management system when you’re questioning authority. Both can make a significant difference.

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