Basic questions about ownership of information have rarely been asked and satisfactorily answered. Who owns organizational information? If the agency is an unclassified DoD organization, services are mandatorily provided by Washington Headquarters Services (WHS), Joint Service Provider (JSP). Part of the JSP’s services includes information storage, in one form or another.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The true financial value of organizational information lies in how it fits into the larger corporate, regional, and, eventually, global structure and its criticality in answering questions of the picture it helps to produce. The more critical your information is in solving problems and providing solutions, the more valuable your information becomes.[/perfectpullquote]
Of course, it’s widely hyped that information will become the new currency. It’s absolutely true. The true financial value of organizational information lies in how it fits into the larger corporate, regional, and, eventually, global structure and its criticality in answering questions of the picture it helps to produce. The more critical your information is in solving problems and providing solutions, the more valuable your information becomes. How critical is your information to answering organizational questions or answering questions of the concerning the organization above you? By handing away organizational information, the strategic advantage it provides is surrendered to (or at least, shared with) whomever physically owns and manages the information – in cases of unclassified DoD organizations, the JSP.
In the coming Information Economy, storing information in a third-party managed cloud or on a third-party managed server is probably the absolute worst scenario for the compromise of organizational ownership and management of its information. It’s great at the top level of, for example, DoD, where it could take measurements of all the data on the JSP servers. (If the data were properly structured, the job would be so much easier.)
Structuring information systems producing data qualified for upstream compliance and providing clear protocols for downstream compliance for subordinate organizations to provide their own strategic information is the ultimate information goal for any government organization. Problems exist in the lack of standards at upstream organizations and the inability to enforce or even encourage standards compliance at subordinate levels. Not knowing the structured data requirements required by upstream organizations stalls intermediate organizations and leaves an information vacuum ultimately neglecting subordinate organizations.
What to do? Wait until the higher-level organizations get positioned to hand down information management guidance? Have fun waiting! The only way to have any influence over the direction is to become involved in the conversation of how information is evolving and structured.
Those who wisely don’t wish to wait know they must move forward toward some better, grander information goal. They are unsure, however, where that goal is or what it looks like. Does the semi-autonomous nature of individual federal agencies and directorates and offices within agencies, hinder the homogeneity of information between organizations at all levels? Probably! To get around that ego-dynamic, there needs to be a single source of information governance to which all government agencies are subject and from which all standards for information are defined.
So, who defines information governance for all federal agencies? Sadly, there is no single federal agency defining a single standard for the entire government when speaking of the term, “Information.”
There is, however, federal agency guidance for a very closely related subset of Information – Federal Records – from the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) official agency guidance on records management.
Some argue that the bulk of agency information does not fall within the scope of “official records” and therefore makes no sense to model or manage on the rules of records management…Those who say this are morons and completely miss the point: The Rules of Records Management Are to Be Applied to All Information!
That doesn’t mean they have to be accounted for as records…JUST MANAGED AS RECORDS!!!
Are you seeing now?
While most agencies do not, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) considers all organizational information, regardless of the original author or the network on which it was born, as accountable records: Emails sent from unclassified agency computers to employee friends and family; chat messages between friends on private social networks performed from government computers and on government premises; emails, documents, chat messages, notes, files, etc., generated on any hardware on any agency network. The advantage in this approach is that a single standard for accountability, NARA’s Records Management Guidance and Regulations, can be applied to all information. The downside is there are terabytes of unstructured data, much of it of little record value, that must now become structured to be managed as records. (The alternative, of course, is to sift through the same terabytes to determine what ARE NOT records.)
It is quite immaterial whether an organization defines its records set as all or only a segment of its overall information volume. All organizations, regardless of the information’s record value, can be governed by the rules and regulations mandated by the National Archives for records. This is a brilliant option. The official documents for any organization are its official records. Compliance to records management standards for all information aligns and standardizes non-records with official records. Because of the National Archives responsibility for the storage of official government records, it has begun to regulate the construction of data. Government agencies are unconcerned about the need for logical data and information structure because no demand has yet been placed on their information. That day will come! When it does, agencies will look for guidance on structuring their data and they will have few options better than NARA.
Agencies can use the mandates for record accountability as the mandates for information accountability to help them reach this goal.