Taking charge of and managing information across a network represents one of the most critical strategic challenges facing IT executives. In today’s information-overloaded business environment, long-term competitiveness can depend on it.
CIOs and other high-level network executives are in the pivotal position to assume this powerful information stewardship role, experts say. They make for perfect information stewards because of their holistic and big-picture view of business and IT operations.
Information stewardship pervades a business. The steward oversees information throughout its lifecycle, regardless of how it’s used, who owns it and where it resides. Stewardship means data-quality management, data security, auditable compliance with privacy and disclosure guidelines, information lifecycle management (ILM), and business-continuity planning and disaster recovery.
High-level network executives and CIOs are familiar with all these components on a detailed basis, says Jim Barnett, a CIO with Tatum Partners, which provides interim and part-time CIO, CTO and CFO services in the US. “Now, the challenge becomes creating an integrated approach across the board to all of those things that have to do with management of data,” he says.
ILM is about confidentiality, availability and integrity of information, says Julia Allen, senior member of the technical staff at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute. She suggests network executives approach information stewardship with key questions and then structure actions around the responses to these questions: what needs to be protected, and why? What needs to be prevented? How do we manage the residual risk? For example, Allen says, “If you’re thinking about business continuity or disaster recovery, and you [operate in a hurricane zone], you ask yourself, in preparation for [such] a natural disaster, ‘What do I need to protect? What actions do I need to prevent against — in this case, a natural disaster — and what actions do I need to take?’”
Information stewardship isn’t easy, in part because it takes a new approach to management. For example, information stewards support business processes rather than the more traditional specific geographical or business unit, says Barry Murphy, a Forrester Research analyst. That’s a tough sell because it puts managers in the position of taking ownership of a function within an organisation — even for processes that occur in someone else’s domain, adds Alex Cullen, another Forrester analyst. That means taking responsibility for something many people feel they don’t control.
Accomplishing this takes a huge change-management effort, says Don Kingsberry, senior director of HP’s global programme management office.
There’s natural resistance any time you institute a new discipline or change the way people work. Sustained executive sponsorship and middle-management commitment to execution is important, says Kingsberry, who, as HP’s information steward, laid out a robust and detailed methodology for managing information across a portfolio that includes more than 3,000 projects at any one time. The result was a 20% reduction in IT costs in three and a half years.
Kingsberry says great information stewardship comprises four components: administration, including processes, policies and procedures; professional education, development and training; a methodology or common framework to execute the work, and a common enterprise system.
For the latter, HP used project and portfolio management software and solutions from Primavera Systems.
Everyone is on the same system so the work is visible, people can collaborate and Kingsberry can see the whole portfolio of activities related to information management.