Sue Trombley, managing director of professional services at Iron Mountain
Sue Trombley, managing director of professional services at Iron Mountain

In today's knowledge-driven world, making the most of the information we garner is a business priority and making sure we maximise its value is a necessity. However, an Iron Mountain study has revealed an unexpected obstacle on the road towards the return on information - a lack of understanding amongst those who create, manage, and use it.

Despite the objective of releasing greater business value from information, most businesses prioritise locking it down. Eighty-one percent of European companies see protecting it to mitigate the risk of a data breach as the top priority with 76 percent prioritising the avoidance of litigation and fines due to non-compliance.

More organisations are coming to appreciate that, in order to harness the value of data, you need to increase access to it so that business units can make use of it. However, before the business makes information more widely available to more people, privacy and intellectual property constraints must be considered. So the issue is ensuring appropriate access rather than simply restricting access to information, combining security with an enabling approach to delivering data to those who need it.

The research found that just 12 percent of business leaders in Europe have complete confidence in their organisation's ability to extract value from information. In addition, mutual confusion between job roles seems rife. Eighty-three percent of European business leaders don't fully understand what their information managers do and in return, 69 percent of European records and information managers admit they don't know exactly what senior business leaders want and need from information.

The operational impact of such mutual confusion is not hard to imagine. One global study discovered that just 27 percent of businesses believe employees have access to the data they need, and 42 percent admit that access to their data is cumbersome. This must be addressed as a matter of urgency if organisations are to have any chance of extracting the full value from their data.

It's no surprise that business leaders use information to make decisions. Two-thirds of business leaders say they have changed the way they make decisions as a result of increased access to information. Forty-four percent of CEOs make one really big decision a month, and in Europe these decisions are mainly about growing the business through new products, new markets and collaboration with competitors. For records and information managers to understand what information the C-suite needs, they have to understand how the executive decision making process works and the role information can or should play. However, they don't have time to wade through high volumes of information that can be raw, complex, full of irrelevance or out-of-date.

Half (52 percent) of the CEOs surveyed admit they have ignored information they didn't understand. Consequently, the information shared with business leaders needs to be clear and relevant; a filter of analysis or insight needs to be applied. Depending on the size or type of business, there may be an individual or team dedicated to data analytics. Where the role exists, the data officer or scientist is a key partner in helping the records and information professional understand the data, how it might be used and helping communicate this to the leadership.

Records and information management professionals are, by their own admission, on uncertain ground when it comes to the business value locked in the data they hold. Our study found that 84 percent of records and information managers have confidence in their ability to help business functions make the most of information – if only they better understood what was required.

The good news is that the study also found that 88 percent of records and information managers have confidence in their ability to help businesses maximise the value of their information. This suggests that the gap is created by a lack of understanding and poor communication rather than inability to deliver. Business leaders need to better understand what records and information managers can contribute; at the same time information professionals need to align more closely with business needs. If business leaders embrace the need to foster a culture where the role and contribution of records and information managers is better understood,  insight and information can travel in both directions.

Sue Trombley, managing director of professional services, Iron Mountain