Achieving Information Governance through a Transformative Cloud Migration

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Recently, I had the pleasure of appearing as a guest on Season 5, Episode 1 of the Law & Candor podcast, hosted by Lighthouse’s Rob Hellewell and Bill Mariano. The three of us discussed cloud migrations and how that process can provide a real opportunity for an organization to transform its approach to information governance. Below is a summary of our conversation, including best practices for organizations that are ready to take on this digital and cultural cloud transformation process.

Because it is difficult to wrap your head around the idea of a cloud transformation, it can be helpful to visualize the individual processes involved on a much smaller scale. Imagine you are simply preparing to upgrade to a new computer. Over the years, you have developed bad habits around how you store data on your old computer, in part because the tools on that computer have become outdated. Now that you’re upgrading, you have the opportunity to evaluate your old stored data to identify what is worth moving to your new computer. You also have the opportunity to re-evaluate your data storage practice as a whole and come up with a more efficient plan that utilizes the advanced tools on your new computer. Similarly, the cloud migration process is the best opportunity an organization has to reassess what data should be migrated, how employees interact with that data, and how that data flows through the organization before building a brand new paradigm in the Cloud.

You can think of this new paradigm as the organization’s information architecture. Just like a physical architecture where the architect designs a physical space for things, an organization’s information architecture is the infrastructure wherein the organization’s data will reside. To create this architecture effectively, you first must analyze how data flows throughout the company. To visualize this process, imagine the flow of information as a content pipeline: you’ve got a pile of papers and files on your desk that you want to assess, retain what is useful to you, and then pass on to the next person down the pipe. First, you would identify the files you no longer need and discard those. Next, you would identify what files you need for your work and put those aside for yourself. Then you would pass the remaining pile down to the next person in the pipeline, who has a different role in the organization (say, accountant). The accountant will pull out the files that are relevant to their accounting work, and pass the files down to the next person (say, a lawyer). The lawyer performs the same exercise for files that are relevant to their legal role, and so on until all the files have a “home.”

In this way, information architecture is about clearly defining roles (accounting role, legal role, etc.) and how those roles interact with data, so that there is a place in the pipeline for the data they utilize. This allows information to flow down the pipeline and end up where it belongs. Note how different this system is from the old information governance model, where organizations would try to classify information by what it was in order to determine where it should be stored. In this new paradigm, we try to classify information by how it is used – because the same piece of content can be used in multiple ways (a vendor contract, for example, can be useful to both legal and accountant roles). The trick to structuring this new architecture is to place data where it is the most useful.

Going hand-in-hand with the creation of a new information architecture, cloud migrations can (and should) also be an opportunity for a business culture transformation. Employees may have to re-wire themselves to work within this new digital environment and change the way they interact with data. This cultural transformation can be kicked off by gathering all the key players together and having a conversation about how each currently interacts with data. I often recommend conducting a multi-day workshop where every stakeholder shares what data they use, how they use it, and how they store it. For example, an accountant may explain that when he works on a vendor contract, he pulls the financial information from it and saves it under a different title in a specific location. A lawyer then may explain that when she works on the same vendor contract, she reviews and edits the contract language, and saves it under a different title to a different location. This collaborative conversation is necessary because, without it, no one in the organization would be able to see the full picture of how information moves through the organization. But equally important, what emerges from this kind of workshop is the seeds of culture transformation: a greater awareness from every individual about the role they play in the overall flow of information throughout the company and the importance of their role in the information governance of the organization.

Best Practices for Organizations:

  1. Involve someone from every relevant role in the organization in the transformation process (i.e. everyone who interacts with data). If you involve frontline workers, the entire organization can embrace the idea that the cloud migration process will be a complete business culture transformation.
  1. Once all key players are involved, begin the conversation about how each role interacts with data. This step is key not only for the business cultural transformation, but also for the organization to understand the importance of doing the architecture work.

These best practices can help organizations leverage their cloud migration process to achieve an efficient and effective information governance program. 

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