Who should own information governance—Legal or IT?

Settling the great debate

This article is the part three of a seven part series on successful information governance projects. Read parts one and two.

The great debate on who should own information governance continues. Legal believes that IT should own the information governance, including record retention, archiving and data deletion. “Most records are electronic, so it should be IT’s job,” argues legal. The IT organization is equally certain this project should be owned by legal. “Records, compliance, policy—that’s legal,” counters IT. The argument continues.

Who should own the information governance hot potato?

These programs cannot be run by only one group. Information governance programs are successful when both the corporate legal organization and IT engage in the program.

Current information governance ownership today is fairly mixed. In our research across small to large corporations records management, as an example, reports into legal in 35 percent of organizations, into IT in 25 percent and is standalone in 10 percent.  In 30 percent of corporations, no single group is chartered with records management. You will be hard pressed to find an industry precedent by looking at other companies.

We have seen that the most successful records programs have a working committee that includes both legal and IT, and often also compliance, information security and audit. (add a link to that post to the relevant text in the sentence) Components of the program are broken down into areas such as policy and schedule development, data mapping, employee training, etc. Individual departments often own a component of the program—legal for policy development, for example—but these components are still developed in coordination with the larger committee. We have seen this approach work well.

Reaching this collaborative approach among departments is often the hardest part of information governance programs. Many departments see the value of a robust program, but few want to raise the issue that a program needs to be developed or updated, fearing that in doing so they will end up owning the entire program, or at least be asked to fund it. Better, they think, to let another department start (and pay for) the entire effort. With everyone waiting on everyone else, programs never get started or updated.

The other significant failure we see in these programs is when different departments do not connect on critical pieces. The legal department develops a complex, detailed record retention schedule, for example, that is “thrown over the transom” for IT to execute. “I did my part,” says legal. The problem, as we have often seen, is that the schedule as developed may be completely unexecutable, and IT gives up trying to implement it. Passing the buck is a way to ensure that the program is likely to fail.

Some in-house legal don’t like working with their IT organization and, truth be told, some IT professionals don’t like working with their in-house counsel. My advice: get over it.

In a cross-functional, coordinated and well-run information governance program everyone wins. Who owns information governance? If you want it to work, it needs to be a group effort.

The next article in the series will discuss determining the right level of investment for your company.

Join the Conversation

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.