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Distinguishing the Difference: Data Governance, Information Governance and Records Management

By May 31, 2016Article

Effective information handling is now key to corporate success. If companies are unable to accurately track, manage and access information on a day-to-day basis, the results can be disastrous. Failure to meet compliance standards could result in financial penalties, while the inability to securely handle consumer data could impact brand loyalty and overall profitability. To ensure records and data are properly managed, many companies are turning to data governance, information governance (IG) and records management strategies. The problem? Many pundits and providers conflate these terms into a single practice. In fact, each has a unique role to play. Here’s how to distinguish the differences. 

Records management 

As noted by ZL Tech, records management is not a new concept. As soon as companies began documenting sales, legal agreements and profit margins, a need emerged for document management. Organization was required to ensure that necessary documents could be found on demand. As records volume increased, so did the complexity of filing systems; entire departments were devoted to the classification, storage and retrieval of specific documents upon request. Records management is also concerned with life cycle. How long must a record be kept until it can be destroyed or merged with a newer record? Under what circumstances might that life cycle be extended? 

The advent of digital information technologies prompted a shift in records management away from the oversight of physical files to digital assets. Yet with many companies still in transition between hard-copy and fully virtual environments, records management remains largely tied to the maintenance and eventual replacement of physical records. 

Data governance 

Data governance, meanwhile, typically refers to the management of digital data within an organization. As noted by Tech Target, this is a challenge for many companies because modern data management policies must include both traditional “structured” data — any data that exists in a category-based system such as spreadsheets or profit reports — and unstructured data, which includes more nebulous information such as consumer interactions, meeting transcripts and anything else that doesn’t meet the structured criteria. 

Data governance serves two main purposes: demonstrating compliance to legal and government entities that oversee specific types of data, such as healthcare or credit card information, and securing this data against tampering or compromise. Ultimately, data governance strategies should help companies identify where their data is located, how it can be accessed, under what circumstances and additionally provide a clear record of use and transmission. 

Information governance 

At the top of the food chain, so to speak, is information governance. This process addresses the management of all information in an organization no matter its type, location or function. According to research firm Gartner, “information governance is the specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archiving and deletion of information. It includes the processes, roles, standards and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information in enabling an organization to achieve its goal.” In other words, IG is a top-level view of information management within an organization and includes the mandates of both records management and data governance under its umbrella. 

The devil is in the details, but when it comes to handling critical information, it’s worth knowing the differences: records management remains focused on the care and maintenance of physical documents, while data governance handles the influx of digital assets. Information governance, meanwhile, encompasses both to define a broad strategy of complete information management. 

Denny Hammack is CEO of FileSolve, an industry-leading provider of electronic document management solutions. FileSolve provides software and traditional services to a wide range of industries and departments throughout specific U.S. markets.