Agility challenges in Information management

In a perpetually evolving marketplace, being able to rapidly adapt to change is crucial to success. An agile organisation is one that can take swift and meaningful action in response to sudden developments, whether that be to control cost overruns on a fast-moving construction project, re-tool a production line according to an unexpected change in market demand, or rapidly reallocate human resources between work sites. Information management has an important role to play in both an organisation’s ability to detect changes as soon as they happen — and its ability to respond effectively in order to maintain productivity and profitability.

A key aspect of agility is stability. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is the “combination of speed, flexibility, a dynamic model in a stable frame that actually gives you true agility,” says Wouter Aghina, a principal at McKinsey & Company.[1] A solid information management solution can both help organisations achieve this foundation of stability, as well as directly enhance agility.

Firstly, one of the greatest obstacles to agility in any organisation is an inability to quickly and effectively reallocate human resources. According to Training magazine, “as competitive advantage shifts inexorably from the resources a company owns to its ability to mobilise talent, HR is poised to become the critical driver of company success.”[2] Information management solutions can affect how well human resources are used. When information assets are well organised and easily accessible, significantly less work hours are spent on tasks outside of employees’ core competencies. While these organisational challenges are more often encountered by businesses dealing with paper archives, digital businesses can also face them if systems are poorly optimised. “IT is grafted onto existing working practices and so replaces or perhaps enhances current systems,” notes a 2015 study by the CJC. “This approach tends to be costly, difficult, and, in the end, often delivers ‘mess for less’, that is, it replaces today’s inefficient, paper-based processes with IT-based systems. It does not fundamentally change the underlying processes and procedures.”[3] In the case of both paper-based and digital workflows, a lack of stable information management can reduce the bandwidth work units have to allocate to sudden developments.

Another barrier to agility is confusion amongst employees regarding where to find information. This problem is especially prevalent in larger organisations, where a lack of transparency about information custody and work unit responsibilities can cause critical data to become siloed in different departments — delaying the sharing of new information and subsequently decreasing responsiveness. Michael Dinh, an executive for Colonial First State, is clear about this difficulty: “In big financial organisations, it can often be challenging to track down what you need quickly. It’s a natural part of working with large systems. You know the information exists, but sourcing it takes time.”

Interoperability is also an area of constant focus for organisations striving to maintain agility. A single, stable, centralised system that allows all work units to access data and collaborate simultaneously supports flexibility and responsiveness by eliminating delays associated with the inability of different computer systems to communicate properly and compatibility issues associated with switching between different digital formats.

The final information management challenge for agile organisations is the speed and stability of document logistics. For those paper-reliant businesses with work sites located a long distance from each other, reliable file transport is vital. While most information management companies are capable of delivering information assets the next day, those that can act faster lend their clients a competitive advantage.

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[3] CJC, Online Dispute Resolution for Low Value Civil Claims – Online Dispute Resolution Advisory Group (Report, CJC, 2015) p. 4.