Information is the lifeblood that drives every aspect of federal operations. And to their credit, federal agencies are getting better at extracting value from their information as they move away from practices of the past like print and file email policies, or scanning records without capturing any metadata, which relegated valuable information to disconnected silos.

However, agencies still have a long way to go before they fully leverage their information as the value-enhancing mission critical asset it could be.

Agencies need to establish a plan for getting the maximum value possible from their stored information. To realize this value, or return on information (ROI), agencies can create an enterprise accountability framework, providing them a holistic view of all the different types of information in their systems, where it all resides, who accesses it and how it is used. This type of a framework goes beyond a simple, static inventory to an agencywide platform for managing all assets, while ensuring appropriate behavior in the valuation of information and the definition of the roles, policies, processes and metrics required to manage the information life cycle.

Agencies should use a phased approach while designing their frameworks, including:

Establishing buy-in with concrete examples

Because a comprehensive framework touches on so many layered — and sometimes esoteric — topic areas, securing buy-in from agency leadership can be a chore if information professionals are not able to make their value proposition case in a succinct and convincing manner. This means being able to point to concrete issues within the agency and quantifying the value of fixing those deficiencies.

Problems like data redundancies, overtly manual processes and ineffective retention policies often fly below the organizational radar, but they are direct barriers to maximizing agencies' ROI and need to be addressed. If they are allowed to persist, agencies are not only losing potential value-adds, they are also introducing avoidable risks and costs. These include not knowing what information the agency holds, being unable to locate information, an increased risk of unauthorized destruction or loss, increased storage costs, increased legal risks, and massive productivity losses.

Creating a comprehensive structure

A holistic information governance platform — the integration of appropriate policies, procedures, processes and controls to effectively manage information agencywide — needs to address both structured and unstructured information and be capable of managing all information, regardless of format. And because information governance extends beyond just physical or digital records, agency frameworks also need to include the policies, people and technology that are driving the generation and governance of information.

Ultimately, a modern accountability framework boils down to effectively balancing informational risk against value and is not limited to just records and information management. It is comprised of multiple focus areas that encompass information governance, security, access and value.

Developing measures and metrics

No matter an agency's function, it is exceedingly important to develop the right metrics to fit its program. These are often a combination of hard-number objective measures and more subjective ratings.

Putting metrics and controls in place is critical to monitoring compliance and providing quantifiable evidence of value to senior leadership, regulatory bodies or even citizens. Determining measurements also drives the future direction an agency will take, as these metrics will be used to determine future change based on performance and the continuous steps that are needed to achieve future goals.

Key metrics may include alignment of retention schedules with pertinent laws and regulations, destruction activities, business unit compliance, and program training status.

Putting the plan into action

In developing and implementing their action plans, agencies should set relevant, high-impact and achievable goals and measure progress against metrics. These goals should cover urgent drivers, such as managing all information and data (not just records), developing automated classification and records retention systems, and managing paper and electronic records in the same environment.

At the same time, an action plan should be flexible enough to adopt any necessary changes that are revealed through the metrics and reporting functions. Agencies need to always be looking for opportunities to expand their impact and make continuous improvements.

Many agencies realize the benefits of and are in the process of developing their adoption of enterprisewide information governance. By developing accountability frameworks, agencies will realize the value lying dormant in their information stores by improving organizational performance, reducing operating costs, reducing compliance risks and protecting information at every point from its creation to its disposal. In this age of "doing more with less," it's important to focus on the initiatives above to optimize return on information.

April Chen is a senior product manager in Iron Mountain's government business, responsible for the company's federal content management and document conversion solutions. She has managed several successful projects within the organization, including the development of Iron Mountain's Federal Information Asset Framework.