3 Questions With Chris Walker About Information Management
Chris Walker is an independent consultant in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, who says he got into enterprise content management by accident. He specializes in information management consulting services at a strategic level, showing how managing information and records is supportive of the overall goals in the strategy of the organization. “We talk about the current state, the future state, and then develop a roadmap of how to get from here to there,” he says. He also has a blog called Info Mgt Nuggets.
What is taxonomy and why should people care?
The bottom line is, taxonomy is how you classify stuff. If you want to extend it more, it can include controlled vocabulary lists and thesauri. At the end of the day, it’s the way you classify various categories of information and corporate content. Why it’s important is that it forms part of your information architecture.
If I don’t know what to call something, I can’t classify it properly; I can’t put it into its proper spot; I can’t apply the proper retention and disposition rules, so I can’t get rid of it when I need to. The other part is, if I don’t classify it — if I don’t leverage the taxonomy — people looking for it are going to have a hell of a hard time filing it and finding it.
It’s no more complicated than that, but I’ve gotten into taxonomy discussions that have dragged on for months and years. There’s a client I worked with several years ago — their taxonomy has been in a draft state since 2007. And this is a public sector client. They can’t decide on what to call things. Let’s move away from subject-based taxonomy to functional-based. People know what business function they’re working in, which makes it easier to file information. “Budget Documents,” for example. You can direct searches more easily than if you threw everything in one big bucket.
If a company wants to set up or refine its taxonomy, how should it go about doing that?
Start by putting together a high-level model of business process. What are its functions? “Memoranda” would be a subject. “Human Resources,” as opposed to getting down to a finer level of detail. For example, human resources might break it down to “Recruiting,” “Training,” “Disciplinary records,” “Benefits,” “Payroll administration” — really tie it to activities. What is that part of the organization actually doing? That’s as opposed to ”Classified Advertisements,” which could be procurement, sales, or recruiting. You don’t really know.
And by going at it from a function-based standpoint rather than subject-based, it tends to flatten out the hierarchy as well. When you’re implementing tools, there’s less of a structure that users have to traverse to find things and file things.
You recently did a blog post about the value of information. How can an organization calculate its information’s value?
I just published a follow-up. It was a struggle I was having. Intuitively, yes, my information has value. My HR policy on discrimination has value. But how do I apply a value to it? So I started looking at it from an information management point of view. I should take the accounting value. I know how much it costs to produce a policy — let’s say three staff for three months at $100 an hour. There’s my acquisition cost of that asset. Potentially, through statistical modeling, this is going to save me $X million in lawsuits over the next several years. The acquisition cost plus the economic benefit gives me the asset value. It’s as simple as that.
The challenge with information is that, unlike normal assets, it doesn’t deplete. The computer you’re using for work costs this much, it has a three-year lifespan, a $100 residual value, and then we get rid of it. Information doesn’t work like that. If I send it to one person, there’s no depletion out of it.
Another challenge with information is that, depending on the nature of the information, it may be used in multiple business endeavors. The challenge is, how am I going to use that info? An invoice — that’s information. I use it to record my sale and establish accounts receivable. But at the same time, I may be stripping stuff, putting it in a data mart, and using it for analytics in the future. How do you manage that? How do you account for that? That’s what becomes a challenge with information.
Hard fixed assets — they have a lifespan, they depreciate. It’s calculated by rules, over three, five, seven, ten years. But information? Not necessarily. Some information depreciates because it’s stale, like defense and litigation. Some information increases in value over time, such as invoices. The older the invoice is, it’s aggregated more with other invoices, and it potentially becomes more valuable over time.
But you always protect those assets. Policies and procedures are potentially worth millions of dollars, but nobody’s calling for those to be accounted for on a balance sheet. Clients ask, where should we start? You need to look at high-value/high-risk. Low-value/low-risk? Let’s back burner that.
How do I determine what’s high value and high risk? You know intuitively what it is. This type of information is worth X. The risk of losing it is worth Y. You know it makes sense to spend money and time to take care of this thing. If you lose a server, how hard is it to recreate the information? How hard is it to get it back? There are a lot of factors you need to consider.