Mitigating the Vendor Information Imbalance

The vast majority of Information Management (IM) vendor products and services provide sufficient functionality for most environments.  But even the best solutions are less efficient and more costly when an organization has a poorly conceived Strategic Information Management (SIM) plan or no plan at all.

Vendors typically have an information advantage over most users in that, they know how their products work best, what their product or solution weaknesses are and how best to address potential buyers who may be in crisis or react mode.   

In 2001, the Nobel Prize In Economics was awarded to George Akerlof,  Michael Spence and Joseph E. Stiglitz for their analyses of markets with asymmetric information. In economics and contract theory Information Asymmetry deals with the study of decisions in transactions where one party has more or better information than the other.  This creates an imbalance of power in transactions which can sometimes cause the transactions to go awry.   

Buyers should understand that many vendors and service providers prefer clients and prospects who are in crisis mode.  This plays to the seller’s strengths and creates an information imbalance. Today, three major motivations for Information Management (IM) solution adoption are the reality or fear of Litigation, Regulation and the growth of Electronically Stored Information (ESI). 

A study conducted this month by Parity Research and  Osterman Research  of 110 mostly IT executives, employed by a range of North American organizations who were knowledgeable about how ESI was being managed in their organization, came up with several interesting findings including: 

– Only 33% of the respondents thought they had an effectively enforced email and ESI retention policy     

– Only 25% thought they had an effectively enforced deletion policy 

– 82% agreed or strongly agreed (56% strongly) that an archiving solution is critical to supporting ediscovery activities like collection and review but less than half have implemented an true  archive. (Many of these use back tapes as their default archive.)

– 77% agreed (58%) or strongly agreed that deploying technology is a sufficient strategy to meet their organization’s IM needs.

 What Vendors Think 

These findings are not surprising and support what many vendors and service providers already know or believe to be true: Users will continue to turn to technology providers to help solve their most pressing information management needs including supplying the users with strategy and justification to support their buying decisions.  Meanwhile users are not moving as quickly towards resolving many of their most pressing information governance challenges.             

It is imperative for organizations to understand that while every vendor and service provider publically endorses the idea that users should have a strategy or plan in place to manage their information assets, many vendors believe that it is not to their advantage for clients and prospects to actually have one.  As more than one vendor has put it, “We thrive on chaos.” 

There is an almost universal belief or fear among vendors that Strategic Information Management (SIM) planning will slow the sales process for them. While this may be true in some cases, in the long run it is to the vendor’s advantage for its customers and prospects to have a plan in place or in the works as this will ultimately speed up implementation times and improve customer service.

Beyond Compliance, Cost Reduction and Risk Mitigation 

The archiving and ediscovery solutions space is a prime example of where limited imagination and lack of strategic planning can lead to marginal results. Granted, most organizations are in crisis or react mode and any short-term improvement that saves time and money while mitigating risk is a great first step.  Also, the business or political climate of certain organizations may not allow for integrated solutions that offer cross departmental sharing of information.  

However, for those organizations where sharing of information across departments is a strategic advantage, creating an information infrastructure where a “single version of the truth” is a key driver and integration of information sources has proven to effectively protect data, lower costs and dramatically improve information access time, having an integrated archiving and ediscovery solution is critical.

Ediscovery Alone Is Not Strategic 

The ediscovery solutions and services space is thriving and growing primarily due to today’s litigation and regulatory environment.  The vast majority of these solutions and services are point products that address a specific pain point or two such as ESI collection and review – two of the most time consuming tasks.  Ediscovery tools can function without a central archive as their primary repository or information source, but the process of crawling desktops, file shares and content repositories can be time consuming and typically yet another siloed, information repository is created.  

The flip side of the argument is large organizations have so much data it is unrealistic to expect all relevant ESI to be indexed and “preserved in place” and that the centralized approach can only work for small or medium sized organizations with a limited scope of data and homogeneous infrastructure environments. This may be the case in certain organizations regardless of size.  But size is not necessarily the barrier. Attitude, business practices and requirements, culture, policies and politics are often bigger obstacles than the size of information repositories or data heterogeneity.  

Parity Research has interviewed organizations with 25,000 employees who have deployed centralized archives to meet compliance and regulatory requirements with over 1 billion objects that include a variety of formats. One of those organizations reduced it’s average per-request ediscovery collection and pre-review time from roughly 300 hours (this included searching backup tapes) to just one hour. It also took this company less than 60 days to start populating the archive with live email and other message types once they began their implementation phase with the vendor. 

While not all archiving solutions will perform as well, this firm’s success was due in large part to the preparation and planning they did prior to evaluating archiving and ediscovery solutions including getting senior management support, creating a cross-functional IM advisory committee,  developing a centralized taxonomy and developing a plan. Other enabling technologies or capabilities such as auto-classification, content analytics, deduplication, enterprise search and policy management can all benefit from a centralized archive. The organization now has the ability to share this data across the enterprise.

Bottom Line 

Acquiring solutions for archiving or ediscovery are relatively easy decisions to make since the business case has been made by the courts and regulatory mandates. Security solutions are de facto necessities and web access is a ubiquitous, essential component for communications, collaboration and, in many cases, doing business.

 Having a SIM plan to help guide decisions for managing information is akin to the usefulness of architectural plans and a blueprint for building a house:  A plan or roadmap makes both tasks much easier on multiple levels including defining the process, calling out the players involved along with their responsibilities and creating a picture of a desired, achievable future state as well as providing a cost estimate. 

Better run organizations spend less money on implementing and maintaining their solutions leaving more money for additional budget items.

About Gary MacFadden

Gary's career in the IT industry spans more than 25 years starting in software sales and marketing for IBM partners DAPREX and Ross Data Systems, then moving to the IT Advisory and Consulting industry with META Group, Giga and IDC. He is a co-founder of The Robert Frances Group where his responsibilities have included business development, sales, marketing, senior management and research roles. For the past several years, Gary has been a passionate advocate for the use of analytics and information governance solutions to transform business and customer outcomes, and regularly consults with both end-user and vendor organizations who serve the banking, healthcare, insurance, high tech and utilities industries. Gary is also a frequent contributor to the Wikibon.org research portal, a sought after speaker for industry events and blogs frequently on Healthcare IT (HIT) topics.
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