I recently sat for the Information Governance Professional (“IGP”) exam. The IGP certification is issued by ARMA, which bills it as the “premier certification focused exclusively on the high-level, strategic practice of information governance.” As an in-house attorney, some of the most oft-repeated advice you’ll hear is ‘get to know the business.’ Working at a company that focuses solely on information governance software and consulting, then, the IGP certification seemed like a great step in that direction. And after taking the exam, I still think it is—but maybe for a slightly different reason.
No doubt, becoming an IGP has considerably complemented what I’ve learned on the job about information governance. In studying for the exam, though, I was surprised by the extent to which the materials leapt past strict IG concepts—such as data mapping or developing backup and retention policies—into the realm of broader business leadership and management principles. High-level and strategic is right: building relationships across disciplines, managing both up and down, analyzing organizational risk, communicating effectively, understanding and employing financial terms and analysis, and driving change all are big themes in the subject matter. While I didn’t expect these principles would underlie so much of becoming an IGP, I’m glad they did. These aren’t niche topics limited to records departments; they are time-tested concepts that can help you achieve success at your organization well beyond creating an information governance program. And for that, I appreciate them.
So if you’re considering becoming an IGP, I’m sure you’ll learn many vital things about data repositories and classification schemes that you wouldn’t pick up as easily elsewhere. However, be prepared for—and prize—these larger lessons inherent in the IGP materials. Here are a few from my studies that stood out to me the most.
IG Means Understanding the Whole Organization
Like being an effective in-house attorney, being an IGP means getting to know your whole organization, not just your own tiny sliver. Distilled to its core, information governance is about how an organization manages and derives value from its ever-expanding stocks of information. The IGP exam focuses on the process of developing a comprehensive IG program, which sets the rules for how an organization handles the information it creates and consumes. As the IGP materials stress, developing an effective IG program requires working with many parts of your organization, such as privacy and security, risk and compliance, each business unit, and information technology.
To develop an IG program, you must understand the informational needs and goals of each part of the organization. This requires spending a great deal of time with each, which can be an eye-opening exercise. Something special happens to your thinking when you get to know how each component of your organization operates rather than staying siloed: You start to look at things from an organizational level, viewing your work as a part of a larger instrument. Such organizational thinking can be extraordinarily useful, and its use is not limited to IG. Training your attention on the organization rather than only your slice can lead you to think more creatively, innovate, and want to better cooperate with all of your organization’s different units.
IGP stresses getting to know your organization as a whole because an IG program, and the information it directs, touches every part of the business. Through studying to become an IGP, you’ll begin to gain a knack for this systems-level thinking. And once you can demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and systems-thinking, it may be only a matter of time before you’re asked to use them in organizational functions outside of IG.
IGPs are Generalists, and That’s Great
The IGP materials teach that, to prepare an effective IG program, you must first understand the areas involved in, and impacted by, the program—which, in most organizations, is practically every aspect of the organization. In other words, you must learn to start thinking like a generalist.
In the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, author David Epstein explores how top performers, particularly in complex and unpredictable fields, more often are generalists rather than single-subject specialists. For example, the best cellular biologists typically don’t become the best by studying only cellular biology (or from starting their cellular biology studies in kindergarten). Instead, they become the best cellular biologists by including things other than cellular biology in their life. As Epstein explains, having knowledge from many different areas (be it from sports, hobbies, athletics, or different professional or academic fields) allows a person to constantly draw from a broad base of understanding, which, it turns out, can prove pretty valuable. Being a generalist allows you to make connections and develop ideas that a specialist likely could not.
According to Epstein, a specialist’s knowledge is like a deep trench. Too often, single-subject experts are too focused on deepening their own trenches to look over at the trenches that surround them. The generalist remembers to look out over those other trenches. Drawing on a wide range of experiences leads to increased inventiveness and creativity and better problem-solving. In other words, developing a generalist’s knowledge base not only is key to creating a successful IG program, but also is a beneficial and broadly-applicable result of studying for the IGP exam. Becoming an IGP teaches you the value of looking over at surrounding trenches.
Get to Know the Money Side of Things
The IGP materials stress financial literacy. Becoming an IGP involves getting familiar with terms like return on investment (“ROI”), variable costs, payback period, generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”), and cost-benefit analysis. A tenet of the IGP materials is securing an executive sponsor to help ensure your IG program’s success. To get your executive team on board with an IG program, you need to learn how to make a business case for the program. Executives, and business cases, rely heavily on thinking in financial terms. And learning how to convince decision makers that you bring something of value—or, conversely, to talk them out of something by showing its lack of value—is yet another IGP principle and skill that is not confined to IG.
Just As In IG, In Life, There are No Off-The-Shelf Solutions
Preparing for the IGP, you learn that developing an IG strategy can be difficult because there isn’t one prescribed plan to follow. Instead, you must create a strategy tailored to your organization’s circumstances. The way in which you put your IG strategy in motion must be equally tailor-made, and it must account for things like organizational culture and history.
Becoming comfortable with developing a solution without a guide, and with knowing that your solution may have some flaws that will require correction over time, is a good skill to develop for use not just in information governance, but in any domain. Once you’ve custom-made an IG program from the ground up, why wouldn’t you be able to do the same in any other domain?
Lastly, becoming an IGP is in large measures about managing change. Change is hard, and humans naturally resist it. But change is inevitable, and if the past two years have taught us anything, it is that disruption and uncertainty, and with them, rapid change, may be with us for the foreseeable future.
As an IGP, you’re tasked with convincing your colleagues to dispose of long-held information management practices (with flaws that maybe only you can appreciate). You must also convince them to adopt new practices that may have a significant impact on how they work, then likely to change these practices once again after your IG program enters its monitoring and improvement phase. Incorporating ever-increasing data privacy and security laws and regulations will only further the amount and frequency of change in your IG program.
The IGP [materials/exam] teach you to operate in an environment of regular, often disruptive, change. This may be, perhaps, the most valuable skill learned from becoming an IGP.
Reflecting on the path to becoming an IGP, perhaps the best part was discovering things I didn’t expect to discover. But I’m glad I did. It was a rewarding experience, and I look forward to putting my new knowledge and skills to use. For those considering studying for the IGP exam, know that what you’ll learn will reach far, and just may serve you well beyond information governance.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general education on Information Governance topics. The statements are informational only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your business activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.