Information Audits – the first step towards effective knowledge management

Posted by Roxanne Chugg

Knowledge is widely recognised as a critical asset within organisations; however many information portfolios are being closed or downsized and organisations are encouraging information users to acquire, control and manage their own resources that support knowledge creation and development.   This is so very inefficient.

Controlling the acquisition of, and access to, information resources is becoming increasingly difficult as vendors bypass the information professionals and market directly to the end-user. Compounding this problem is the availability of information in a multitude of formats and the exponential growth in the number of products available. This necessitates a higher level of evaluation and control to ensure that quality information is available to those who need it. 

This proliferation of information products and delivery methods, is resulting in personnel within organisations suffering from 'information overload' and in many cases using a variety of resources to gather their information, some of which may be not be the appropriate for their needs.  This also means that good information management practices and tools are not being shared across organisations as each person is left their own devices.

Many organisations are structured in such a way that the business units operate independently of one another (yep the old silos) yet these “silos” rely on similar information resources. Some operate without the resources they need because they don't know where to find them, while others engage in 'information overkill' and purchase anything that looks like it might be relevant. Consequently there are often significant gaps, inconsistencies and duplications in information resources within an organisation.

As well as ensuring that the appropriate information is provided, there must be a clear and visible alignment of the information that is acquired by the information users with the organisational/departmental/unit objectives. The challenge for today's information professional is to identify the information that is needed to optimise the achievement of organisational objectives, who it is needed by, how it will be used, its source and how it flows through the organisation and between the organisation and its external environment so that everyone benefits from this consistency in information provision.

The information audit is an established management methodology that will address all of these issues.

The information audit is a process that will effectively determine the current information environment by identifying what information is required to meet the needs of the organisation.  It first helps to understand the organisation’s core and support processes, inputs and outputs and so on.  An information audit establishes what information is currently supplied, and allows a matching of the two to identify gaps, inconsistencies and duplications. The process will also facilitate the mapping of information flows throughout the organisation and between the organisation and its external environment to enable the identification of bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

So, why conduct an information audit?

An information audit is a way that an organisation can better understand how the tasks and activities that it supports contribute to its success. Conducting an information audit will increase the understanding of how an organisation works with regard to information and consequently with regard to knowledge. Using an information resources database to store the collected data enables the determination of how well tasks and activities are aligned with organisational objectives and the strategic significance of not only the tasks and activities, but also the information resources.

This flows on to other processes and enables the elimination or minimisation of non strategic tasks and their associated support services. The information audit can form a solid basis for the development of a knowledge management strategy by providing the foundation dataset for a knowledge audit that enables the identification of how and where knowledge is being created and used, and where it is needed to improve outputs and contribute to organisational success and desired outcomes.

Resource - Henczel, S.M. The Information Audit: A Practical Guide.