There are two high level approaches for imposing company-wide policies concerning information, although the two can overlap.
One approach is manual, which is to say, creating, announcing and distributing a written policy to the people handing information, where the policy tells them steps to take when handling different kinds of information. Such a policy can provide instructions about what types of information are covered by policy, who information may be shared with, where to store it, and even how to label it (where such labels become metadata concerning the information being labeled). There are systems which allow or require people to apply labels to their electronic documents as each document is created, but the labels are still created using the time and attention of a person.
The other approach is automated, which is to say, using software to examine document content and metadata. Such software can find, label, sort, and categorize information. Software can also trigger workflows according to pre-established policies, such as announcing an alert or blocking a user from opening an email if a virus is found within its metadata or content.
There are tradeoffs between manual and automated processes. Sophisticated software can be expensive to purchase and time-consuming to configure and re-configure as a company’s personnel and systems change. And even the most elaborate software still requires some manual effort. But manual processes can be expensive and sloppy compared to automated processes. People aren’t usually rewarded for putting extra time and effort to follow information handling policies, and they can become fatigued and make mistakes.
For companies with significant information handling needs hybrid processes involving both manual and automated elements are pretty standard at this point, although the technology side is advancing by leaps and bounds.
One of the major topics of this blog will be eDiscovery, an ideal sphere in which to examine the tradeoffs between manual and automated information handling. In eDiscovery pending legal action(s) force organizations to develop policies for handling large volumes of company information. The manual information handling elements of eDiscovery can be the most expensive information handling processes of all when they involve can document-by-document review of vast quantities of electronic document by attorneys, who typically work for high hourly fees. Because of the expense of attorneys reviewing large number of documents, in recent years there has been an explosion of impressive automated solutions for information handling. But there remain tradeoffs between manual and automated processes, and policies must be developed to govern both.