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Carrying out an information audit.

Introduction

The increasing problems caused by junk mail, data overload and indigestibility, and the need to make decisions ever more rapidly, mean it is all too easy to take the wrong path in establishing systems for decision support. If accurate information is the key to effective decision-making, then an information audit will enable you to find out if your information systems are up to the task.

This checklist is concerned with the processes of an information audit. The audit can take place on either organisational or individual levels--here, approaches to both are presented.

By undertaking an information audit your organisation will discover:

* what information is being circulated but not used to advantage

* what information is required but not available

* the differences between what is needed and what is available

* what needs to be done to match demand with provision

* how information is best delivered to its potential users.

National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership

This checklist has relevance to the following standards: E: Using resources, units 1, 2, 4; F: Achieving results

Definition

An information audit requires an inventory of the way people and technology mix to ensure that the right information gets to the right people in the right form at the right time. It also requires measures to evaluate the costs and benefits of the operational system providing it. Inventory checks include specialist--and perhaps untapped--human resource skills and processes, and information flowcharts, as well as technological tools, databases and knowledge stores.

Action checklist

1. Carry out an initial investigation

Establish the facts about your situation. Before you determine where you are going it is essential to know your current position. Gain an understanding of the importance of information to the organisation and establish the organisation's objectives and targets, its management culture and organisation structure. This sets the context and perspective for finding out what information resources the organisation has and how it uses them, how information flows (or doesn't), and how it is valued.

2. Establish sufficient resources to do the job

Put together an audit team. You will need people with sufficient knowledge, experience, judgement and standing in the organisation to carry out the investigation. The team will need to establish a method of performing the investigation, securing access to the appropriate people and documentation, winning adequate time to carry out all the tasks and securing support from the top.

3. Establish the framework of the audit

In order to ensure consistency across the organisation, set up a general framework of approach. Include:

* What information do staff: acquire, create, process or transmit?

* Who and what are involved in these activities?

* What control procedures are in place?

* What is the nature of budget allocation and control?

* Which types of information are used a lot / partially / not at all?

* What types of information are required but not available?

4. Establish measures and values in order to assess effectiveness

Work out ways of assessing the importance of the data to be gathered. For example, what significance or value can be attached to the fact that an office keeps files of information? What is done with them? To what use is the information put? The cost of acquisition, processing, storing and delivery is an undisputed primary consideration, but it will not necessarily indicate the effectiveness or even performance of the information resource, activity or result which relates to it. Value or effectiveness may be assessed in more interpretative or qualitative terms, such as accuracy, relevance and contribution to decision-making, ease of use and impact on efficiency, as well as return on investment in terms of the bottom line.

5. Get down to the detail of the audit

An information audit should ascertain at least the following:

* What information do staff acquire? Where from? At what cost? How is it used?

* What information do staff create? What happens to it? Where does it go?

* What information is stored and why? What purpose will it serve?

* What information is passed on or delivered? To whom? For what purpose? In what form?

* Is there a gap, or a match, between that which is available and that which is needed?

* What are the skills and responsibilities of the people who carry out these tasks?

* What equipment and tools do they have available (hardware, software, filing cabinets, modems etc)?

* Are there any control documents, such as policy statements, guidelines, service level agreements, procedures, manuals?

* Is any of the information (produced, acquired, processed, re-delivered, or stored) superfluous to needs?

* Are any of the information-handling activities non-productive?

* What budget is available? How was the budget figure reached? How adequate is it? Who controls it? What control measures exist for it?

6. Use the data gathered to map information flows

Map out a flowchart to show the areas, processes, functions and activities through which information passes, clarifying gaps or faultlines that need to be plugged or bottlenecks and overflows that need to be unblocked.

7. Assess the effectiveness of information resources and activities

When the data sets are assembled, examine the emergent information activities in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Ask:

* To what extent does this activity or resource support objectives, or help to meet targets?

* How efficient is it in terms of the time, and cost, required to do it?

* Are any positive (or negative results) directly or indirectly related to it?

* Does it (and can it?) need to be adapted to fit changing needs?

* Is there a good or a bad fit between the resources, and the results they produce?

* Are there information gaps between different functions?

* Are there areas where information goes into a black hole?

* Are there gaping holes where results are not forthcoming because no-one has identified responsibility for the information process?

8. Report the findings

Focus on the gravest areas of mismatch--black holes where no useful outcome is visible--and the people, skills and resources required to plug them. Conclude with recommendations for the next series of actions.

Action checklist-a personal audit

* Are your information needs structured, or are they ad hoc, considered only when needs arise?

* Is anyone else aware of your needs, or are they a secret?

* Do you review your information sources?

* Do you make do with what you have already?

* Do you add value to the information you process?

* Do you have a say in the hardware or software you use?

* Do you file most of the information you receive? For immediate / eventual re-use?

* When you send information on, do you know what will happen to it?

* Do you get information in the right form for your use?

* Is it reliable and accurate?

* Is it worth keeping for future use?

* Is it worth passing to someone else?

* Could you get hold of it again easily if the need arises?

* Would you know where to go for it?

* If it hadn't arrived, would you (or should you) have gone looking for it?

Managers should avoid

* being influenced by persuasive, but time-honoured, fixed ideas

* making promises during the data-gathering stage

* forgetting about the influence of the culture and structure of the organisation.

Additional resources

Books

Introducing information management: the business approach, Matthew Hinton ed.

Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006

Information strategy in practice, Elizabeth Orna

Aldershot: Gower, 2004

Management information systems: organisation and technology in the networked enterprise, Kenneth C Laudon and Jane P Laudon

Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2000

Handling information overload in a week, Bob Norton and Andrea Griffiths

London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1999

This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at: www.managers.org.uk/mic

Journal articles

Susceptibility audits--a tool for safeguarding information assets, John C Hale, Timothy D Landry and Charles M Wood Business Horizons May/Jun vol 47 no 3, 2004, pp59-66

The internal information audit: conducting the audit and implementing the results, Sheila Pantry and Peter Griffiths Business Information Review Mar vol 19 no 1, 2002, pp43-54

This is a selection of journal articles available from the Management Information Centre. More information at: www.managers.org.uk/mic

Related checklists

Handling information--avoiding overload (150)
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Title Annotation:Checklist 013
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Managing Information and Finance
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Words:1342
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