Information governance is essential for the day-to-day processes of managing a government agency’s data. This is done through holistic approaches to managing agency information by implementing processes, roles, controls, and metrics, that treat information as a valuable asset.
Information governance allows information to be more accessible to those who need it, which is crucial for any organization. Agencies of all sizes often suffer from poor organization and management of information assets, leading to issues with accessibility, ease of use, timeliness, and security—all of which governance can positively affect.
Information drives and powers today’s modern governments, with federal, state, and local agencies seeking to improve engagement opportunities with constituents. The challenge lies in how to effectively manage the current explosion of information while protecting constituents’ data and privacy. Keeping up with the rapid expansion of information has put pressure on outdated governance and compliance practices.
So how can agencies modernize their information governance strategies so that they may leverage data to deliver on their missions, serve the public, and steward resources while protecting security, privacy, and confidentiality?
To answer these questions, the Digital Government Institute (DGI) recently held a panel discussion with IT experts from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the U.S. Department of Transportation, and other organizations to discuss the foundational requirements for modernizing agencies’ information governance practices.
What do agencies need to manage data and information?
When considering information governance, it’s common to wonder how it differs from data governance, which is referred to more commonly. The difference is subtle; data is not necessarily information, whereas information cannot exist without data.
Information governance refers to data assets that have carefully defined business meanings; data governance, on the other hand, refers to the oversight of the physical data itself—its storage, security, and transport. Someone implementing data governance might perform those tasks with little or no understanding of the data’s meaning, while, in information governance, meaning is everything.
According to Peter Aiken, Professor of Information Systems at VCU, when thinking of the foundational requirements for modernizing information governance, agencies first must ask three specific questions. The first is, what do agencies need to manage data and information?
Managing data and information for an agency could lead to either success or failure. According to Aiken, during the pandemic, the UK failed to add 16,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases to its track and trace system due to an Excel error. “People were using Microsoft Excel and not realizing that if they had certain versions of Excel and put too many rows into an Excel spreadsheet, it would drop rows off the bottom of the sheets,” said Aiken.
The failure of uploading these cases to the national database meant that anyone that came into contact with these individuals was not informed, and this data miscalculation may have contributed to further spreading of the virus .
Though this is an example of the healthcare system, and this exact occurrence may not happen with every agency, a comparable catastrophe could still occur if agencies aren’t carefully managing their data and information.
How should agencies talk about data governance and information governance?
After a multitude of studies were conducted across agencies to resolve the challenges they were having with the process of data governance, it was concluded that the issues were created by people trying to manage it all through IT and lacked the skills to properly manage the wealth of data at their fingertips.
“Asking IT to work on these as problems means they don’t get worked on because IT has very little training around [these] skill sets in order to be able to do this,” explained Aiken. “Data governance is the only resource that organizations have in order to address these challenges that are here.” IT is only as smart as the person using it.
Agencies must acquire new skillsets around data management so they can successfully modernize their data in a secure operating environment.
What is the role of modern data and information governance?
As previously mentioned, agencies have to learn new skills to manage their data. To properly modernize their data, they must have a good understanding of the steps on how to do so. According to Aiken, “What most [agencies] don’t understand is that your data problems manifest themselves in multifaceted [agency] challenges.” In order to mitigate these issues, agencies should have a solid root cause analysis, and this is part of data governance.
Data is usually filtered through IT systems when it comes to trying to locate an issue within a database. If agencies wait to address the issue, it is relatively more expensive in that moment to resolve it than it would be if there was a plan in place from the start.
“With good root cause analysis, we would have these poor results changed if we put in place better data practices at the center of what we are. This means that we need to have a dedicated group of individuals with specialized skills to create a repeatable process and develop sustained skill sets going forward. These are the components that [are essential] and comprise a data community,” said Aiken.
For agencies to successfully modernize their information governance, they need to have standard compliance policies that the entire agency follows – along with the proper training of employees – to be successful and mitigate these challenges that they may run into when managing their data. If everyone has the proper training, and the agency has a dedicated group of individuals that are all specialized with the skill sets needed to manage data, agencies will be more successful in the long run.
To learn more about how to modernize your agency’s information governance, click HERE.