At the last NetIKX seminar on the 4th November, Information Audit was our topic. We were lucky to have an international expert on this subject to lead the afternoon. Sue Henczel had come from Australia and this was the first of a series of talks in the UK.
She introduced the key focus of an information audit; to undertake a wide search looking at information needed, information provided but also organisational behaviour and context.
Technology makes storing information easier but this does not necessarily result in what we require being more easily accessible. It is important to research how people use the systems they have. Training can help people use systems such as email or internet search more effectively and many of us could be helped by being taught how to assess the quality of information that we discover. However, training people in things that can seem intuitive may be unpopular although even digital natives may not be skilled in using new technology even if they feel comfortable with it. An information audit can pinpoint training needs.
There are other issues that may emerge. There used to be much talk of paperless offices but an audit can perhaps provide a more nuanced view of what media is best for different types of information. It may be the first time that some people have ever talked about issues of responsibility, accountability and ownership. Information sharing is not something that is natural for all people all the time So an audit can help organisations look at and recognise where there are ‘silos’ that have unhelpful barriers to sharing or hoarding attitudes that have never been challenged.
Organisations frequently overspend on information. However it is hard to predict what savings will result from an audit as overspends will not be apparent before the audit. That makes getting buy-in for an information audit on the grounds of cost savings difficult. Instead, it is possible to focus on the learning within the processes of the audit to provide a good rationale for action. Insights from the audit will contribute to designing and implementing more effective technical infrastructure and better information systems and processes.
Graham Robertson then set the scene for the ways that an information audit can fit in the organisational landscape, with a useful diagram to illustrate the main links.
Then we settled into small groups to network and discuss what we had learnt. The groups came up with plenty of ideas. We discussed the use of carrots and sticks. If information professionals intend to get to the bottom of what is really going on in an organisation, they should avoid the sticks approach, as people talk more freely if rapport is established. Participants confirmed that an audit does indeed prove helpful in identifying future training needs. Good information is vital for good decision making and we felt strongly that this is a selling point for an information audit because organisations care about the quality of their decisions.
The afternoon finished as usual with drinks and further networking