As I approached the Waldorf Hilton’s main entrance, my umbrella struggled and lost its battle with the cold, slicing rain. The doorman, smartly dressed in a bonded overcoat and bowler hat, directed me into the Palm Court and to the 10th annual Information Governance & eDiscovery Summit. Most attendees milling about the room seemed to pay little mind to the meteorological events beyond the room’s frosted double doors, and why would they? The only evidence of the weather was an occasional faint clap of thunder. They were focused on refining and perfecting existing information governance (“IG”) strategies. Perhaps it was my twisted umbrella, but I couldn’t stop wondering if the weather signalled the need for a new approach to IG.
IG can trace its roots to medical recordkeeping in the 1990s. Faced with ‘the development of information technology and its capacity to disseminate information rapidly and extensively,’ the National Health Service commissioned The Caldicott Report to address the tension between the need to share information versus patients’ expectations of privacy.
In the ensuing decades, IG grew from a niche healthcare concern into broad-based principles applicable to organisations across all industries. A few key points in IG’s evolution include:
- The NHS created and implemented its 2003 IG Toolkit “to enable organisations to measure their compliance against the law and central guidance and to see whether information [was being] handled correctly.”
- ARMA sought to take the general concepts underpinning the IG Toolkit and expand their applicability to all organisations, regardless of type or activity, with its 2009 Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles®.
- The collaborative efforts in 2011 and 2012 between ARMA and EDRM culminated in the updated Information Governance Reference Model which highlighted the fact that efficient, effective IG comes from “the relationship between duty and the value of information assets.”
- With the 2013 Practice Direction placing limits on costs in disclosure and the 2015 proposed FRCP highlighting proportionality and preservation, two leading countries’ procedural laws now systemically advance IG principles.
Today, at its core, IG is “an accountability framework to ensure appropriate behaviour in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archiving and deletion of information.” Organisations which fully utilise IG will be able to better respond to anticipated, as well as unforeseen business realities, whether in regulation, investigation, or litigation. While good in theory, in practice the adoption of an IG programme is difficult as organisations not only have to seek buy-in across departments and amongst individuals but must also make commercial arguments for the value of IG. Too often, IG, like ediscovery, is brushed aside, relegated until a specific need presents itself.
Even when organisations do embrace IG, successful use is becoming more difficult as information continues to grow. A key tenet of IG is information disposition; and, “[i]n order to dispose of any form of information, organisations need to know the value of that information.” How practical in today’s business world is it for organisations “to know the value of [its] information”? With the explosive growth of structured and unstructured data as well as the bottom-line drive toward profit, what organisations have the means to enact version control; label, tag, and otherwise organise files and emails; control the number of chat systems used; keep personal and business communications separate; archive audio and video data; etc.? ‘Information management and governance tasks are viewed as an anathema.’
None of this is to suggest IG’s time has passed, and in fact, most “[i]ndustry experts are optimistic about the future of IG.” Rather, we need to align IG with the big data realities of the modern world. Within an ediscovery context, organisations have begun using predictive coding and other advanced analytics as well as using multi-matter management repositories to help retrieve information more efficiently and accurately than previous methods. Could analogous technologies help transform IG? Imagine a world where there was no need to ever delete data, everything was stored securely, and through human-trained artificial intelligence, anything an organisation needed could be quickly and easily found.
As I thought back upon the two days of the summit, I was struck by the calibre of the attendees. It is a rare thing to have so many leading individuals and organisations all in one place, working together to move the conversation forward. Before I exited the hotel after the final session, I stopped briefly to admire the Palm Court’s oversized skylight, casting diffuse light upon the sunken tiled floor. The room has remained largely unchanged since its construction over 100 years ago. In the world of technology, few things last quite so long. What will the future hold for IG? Will the iterative process of improvement continue, or will disruptive technologies enter the fray?
I looked at my umbrella, almost tossing it into the rubbish bin beside the front doors before thinking better of it, and I put my sunglasses on. The clouds had parted, and oranges and magentas filled the sky to the west. Such is the weather of London, ever-changing. But in that is a comforting certainty: ‘adapt . . . or scramble when the torrent falls’.