Someone call a professional translator.
Since 2011, I have attended several conferences on behalf of ZL Technologies, mostly focused on enterprise legal technology.
And one of my most striking observations of these events is more a matter of linguistics than pure tech: different business units often seem to be speaking entirely different languages. Given many of the same issues regarding data and its management, departments within the enterprise have gone about forging their own definitions, approaches, and even solutions to overlapping needs.
Geared towards companies in the Fortune 1000 space, these conferences typically focus on a specific legal issue at the intersection of the infamous “Big Data” industry and law: topics such as eDiscovery, Compliance, IT Policy Governance, or Electronic Records Management. They often bring together groups that are familiar with each other, but with divergent motives and disparate methodologies. Distinct dialects continue to thrive, sometimes causing confusion.
In the past, the content varied considerably from conference to conference, based on the particular focus. For eDiscovery conferences, predictive coding and review became the rallying cry for some time, while Records Management conferences focused on technology-aided sorting strategies such as automatic classification. But are they really that fundamentally different? Faced with seemingly insurmountable piles of information, the easiest route was to stick to the status quo: maintain the departmental lingo and march on, solving problems as they existed in the narrow departmental scope.
However, with the growth in enterprise “Big Data” over the past 5+ years, these once loosely-connected issues—from eDiscovery and Legal Hold to Records and Information Governance—have become inextricably linked, with Big Data as their apparent common denominator. But with the bigger picture coming into focus, it’s increasingly foolhardy to view them as separate issues. Besides, with the same denominator, the simplest route to solving the problem is often combining the factors into one.
If “Big Data” is big enough to be such a shared issue, why don’t we try harder to address it in a shared language?
We are making progress, and the languages are slowly showing signs of becoming more mutually intelligible. With this big data mentality becoming more rooted, large organizations are re-thinking their approach to managing information technology, with a cautious eye towards its legal repercussions. Rather than treating issues like eDiscovery, Compliance, and Records Management as disconnected issues which require separate technologies, visionary companies are leveraging this moment to implement more effective “Information Governance” solutions that treat these problems holistically. In that regard, Information Governance can be understood as the “next generation” of Records Management… or eDiscovery, or IT, or compliance, for that matter. Information Governance is the combined factor for which we can insert and solve multiple variables. It’s a common language.
Large enterprises have always managed their corporate records and enterprise data with complex procedures. However, only a small percentage of any company’s data falls under the strict – and growingly antiquated -- category of a traditional “Business Record:” usually around 5%. With an expanding scope of data falling under the category of general business relevance, it becomes increasingly counterproductive to carry on with completely separate languages and methods for a large pool of data that is clearly shared across business functions. Companies today have to find effective ways to manage all of their data, to search for it and produce it at a moment’s notice… whether it be for litigation or analytics. So why continue on discussing and handling data as if it only “belongs” to one stake-holding entity at any given time? Information Governance as a business philosophy is edging us slowly towards a more holistic mindset, but sometimes the language barriers and communication breakdowns remain.
Any good corporate culture thrives on diversity, and perhaps our localized departmental dialects are indeed part of this colorful tapestry. Business units will (and likely should) maintain the familiar “languages” that are most effective in dealing with their internal day-to-day business. But when it comes to an issue as big as Big Data, it seems that the common enterprise vocabulary needs expanding.
Bring information governance discussions to the forefront: engage in cross-departmental communication about its role in overall business strategy… not just your own business-unit-specific needs. Conversation is crucial with learning any new language, and the language of information governance is no different. Without any practice or initiative, we will continue to hammer away at problems that are superficially separate, but at their core share much more in common than their existing departmental dialects would currently suggest.