How to construct tomorrow's information management professional

The government lacks the workforce to handle the exponential growth of information and information assets.

Shutterstock image (by Tim Masters): okay sign emerging from a pile of shredded papers.

Ninety percent of the world's data has been created in the past two years. We generate 2.5 quintillion (that's 2.5 followed by 18 zeros) bytes of data every day. To say we are in the midst of an information explosion is an understatement.

As one of the biggest users and collectors of information, how is the federal government faring in terms of its ability to manage all that data?

According to agencies' latest Records Management Self-Assessments, only 50 percent of federal records officers are dedicated full-time to their agencies' records and information management (RIM) programs. And of the 50 percent who are not, more than 70 percent commit less than half their time to RIM programs.

That is not nearly enough manpower to handle the exponential growth of information and information assets. The shortfall spotlights a clear need to address core capabilities to meet future information management requirements.

An emerging skills gap

Iron Mountain recently partnered with Market Connections to conduct a survey of federal information management professionals in an effort to identify their priorities and concerns for the next three to five years. The results suggest that a near-term resolution to these challenges is unlikely because they revealed a gap between the skills those professionals currently have and what they believe they will need in the future to manage the information boom.

The survey identified clear and recognized needs for improving electronic records retention and disposition, RIM and analytics capabilities, but it also showed that professionals might not be correctly prioritizing the corresponding skill sets. That hints at a rising skills gap that will only exacerbate information management problems.

If agencies do not make it a point to explicitly address those discrepancies, they risk being caught unprepared for the 2016 and 2019 deadlines set by the presidential directive on managing government records. And they almost certainly will not be ready for evolving future requirements.

So what does the next-generation information professional look like? Consider these four fundamental capabilities:

1. They must manage all information, regardless of format. Almost half of respondents cited this area as their most urgent driver. The theme resonated throughout the study:

  • Information (36 percent) and records management (30 percent) were listed as the two primary anticipated future roles.
  • Electronic records retention and disposition (24 percent), RIM practices (24 percent) and email and social media management (20 percent) rounded out the top five areas needing improvement.

Agencies are at a tipping point in terms of their ability to manage information holistically. All information, regardless of format, must be governed appropriately by the individuals entrusted to do so, and the silos currently used to manage them are no longer appropriate.

With the unimaginable growth in both the amount and variety of information agencies need to manage, the focus on one governance structure for all information types and parallel skill sets will be critical components of any future information management program.

2. They must possess analytical capabilities. Somewhat surprisingly, the survey revealed that analytics will be a key capability area over the next three to five years. Specifically:

  • Analytics will be one of the top three future anticipated roles (30 percent).
  • Analytics was listed as one of the top three in-demand capabilities (39 percent).

Unfortunately, it seems to be a capability that is currently lacking because almost half of survey respondents (42 percent) listed analytics as a needed skill set. Information managers must hone their skills in this area by focusing on incorporating taxonomy and metadata, enhancing data quality management and more efficiently using predictive analytics.

3. They must be security conscious and capable. In addition to managing information holistically, next-generation information professionals must focus on the entirety of information security. That includes protecting information in both physical and digital formats from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, perusal, inspection, recording or destruction.

They must also transition to being an overall information risk manager, developing and managing a comprehensive risk framework for all information types.

The survey clearly highlighted this as a focus area, noting that:

  • Information security and access control (56 percent) will be in greatest demand.
  • Projects related to data privacy (34 percent) are in the greatest demand.
  • Risk management (34 percent) is most often cited as an area for improvement.

4. They must hone their "soft skills." The information management challenges of today -- and tomorrow -- do not solely fall to the information manager. Instead, the concerns are making their way up to the top levels of government, and the information managers of tomorrow are going to need to learn the fine art of persuasion. However, 15 percent of survey respondents said they were very or extremely weak in fostering stakeholder buy-in and delivering C-level and stakeholder communications.

Also, innovative thinking was cited by 39 percent of respondents as the most in-demand soft skill, highlighting a growing requirement to think outside the proverbial storage box. To solicit support -- and potentially funding -- from the C-suite, developing core soft skills is essential.

As agencies seek to comply with current information management mandates and prepare for future requirements, they must prepare, train and arm information management professionals with the skills and tools they will need to succeed. Our recent survey has shed a small amount of light on where agencies can focus their efforts and has exposed the most pressing needs. To tackle growing challenges before they reach a breaking point, agencies must begin to implement changes now.

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