Organisations these days can accumulate huge amounts of paperwork and documentation. From time to time it’s common to have a clearout during which documentation is destroyed or put into confidential waste sacks and disposed of. I’ve seen this done several times during my career and it always makes me think about what might happen if the organisation needed some of that paperwork at some point in the future. The same is true when new IT systems are put in place – what happens to everything that was stored in the old system? Ideally the information would be carried across but that isn’t always the case and it’s not uncommon for data to be lost.

More and more now organisations and their leaders are being brought to task over their failure to retrieve documentation and information relating to key decision made by individuals who have left the organisation long before. Or organisations are repeating their mistakes of the past because new management teams choose not to or are unable to retrieve and access critical knowledge and information from the past.

Why is this so important? Well from a private sector perspective, ultimately it’s all about the bottom line. But in the public sector public scrutiny and the demand that organisations be accountable is growing, and I expect the heat to keep being turned up with Chief Executives and their equivalents appearing at external scrutiny panels such as government committees to face the music when lessons have not been learned and information and documentation is not available.

So what are some of the important systemic issues that are going wrong?

  1. Information management. Put simply, in many organisations effective information management does not exist in any meaningful way. There are few information repositories that encompasses an ethos of information storage, dissemination and knowledge management. Where information repositories do exist they are simply reactive departments dealing with transactional document management.
  2. Using IT appropriately as the solution. Organisations are used to using IT to transact business and store and retrieve information, but the problem is that early IT systems used were built to replicate the paper processes that went before and not to provide a new leaner and flexible approach to this critically important area. Furthermore, IT is moving at such a fast pace and organisations tend to have a throw away mentality. Appropriate provision is not being made to ensure that when new IT systems are put in place the information is migrated effectively from the old systems. Unfortunately the IT vendors themselves make this awkward if not impossible as there is no honour in allowing the new IT company that has just displaced you to take all your data stored unless your parting shot is to charge a hefty sum for the privilege!
  3. Knowledge Management. Organisations talk incessantly about knowledge management and the need to capture it and learn for the future. I think with the most serious matters learning and knowledge is captured but years on how does it get retrieved and effectively used?

So what’s the answer?

There is no single solution that will change the landscape overnight but I think there are three main ways in which the position could immediately be improved.

  1. Organisations must invest in clearly defined information strategies with action plans for implementation. Culturally all staff, irrespective of their positions, must be educated about the importance of information and knowledge handling and management.
  2. Organisations need skilled information managers that are valued and professionally respected for the roles that they perform. Their roles must be multi-faceted and pan-organisational, giving them the scope to put in place strategic information arrangements and to ensure that information is effectively managed now and in the future.
  3. When investing in IT it isn’t enough to simply consider the system’s ability to perform the task in hand. Three other key points must also be addressed:
  • How well will it integrate with other systems (new and legacy)?
  • How easy is information to retrieve from the system, now and in the future?
  • What will the IT vendor charge in the future to migrate information stored to a new system?

This is where a system like Abavus’s My Council Services can help. My Council Services offers secure case management technology that’s easy to use, flexible and adaptable, helping local authorities to keep track of key information, decisions and evidence over the long term. So in summary if you are an employee reading this next time you walk past the empty office be sure not to turn a blind eye to the information that is being discarded, if you are an IT professional reading this get the application that holistically manages the information and if you are the Chief Executive don’t let systemic failures in information management be your downfall.