It is unclear who first created the concept of an information lifecycle, but the is a hand-drawn version in Elizabeth Orna’s book ‘Practical Information Policies’, published in 1999. There are many different versions of the lifecycle. The one I use most often is shown below.
Each step of the lifecycle has a question associated with it
- Why should a piece of information be created? Is there a defined need or policy for doing so? All too often information is published without any clear idea of who will use the information. This is important because the format in which it is published needs to be immediately usable. No one wants to have to break down a pdf of a policy in order to re-use some of the text in another document
- Where is it going to be stored? Organisations have many publishing channels and guidance needs to be provided on which is the most appropriate to reach a defined group of users.
- How is the information going to be found? It can be instructive to search for the information item shortly after publication and see if it is presented on the first or second page of a list of results. Within the context of the information architecture of an intranet or document management system is the information in a folder that will help to ensure that it can be found and used. If information cannot be found, perhaps because of a poor search application then in effect it does not exist, and the lifecycle comes to an immmediate conclusion.
- What purpose might it be used for? Where there is an opportunity to add metadata this invariably is done so within the context of the creator and not of the user.
- How will the information be shared? The issue here is not just about formats and channels but also about security. Is it clear from the information who is permitted to see it and then share it further with others. All too often security marking is not on the document itself, or is presented as Confidential without a reader being certain about to whom the term ‘confidential’ applies.
- Who will undertake a review? A document dated 2012 might still have value to the organisation, but if this is the case then there needs to be a ‘reviewed by’ date on the document. Reviewing a document takes time, and it could be that the original author has left the organisation. Managers should have a responsibility to ensure that when someone leaves another member of the department takes responsibility for the document.
- The decision then has to be taken as to whether the document needs to be revised, rewritten, added to the business records of the organisation or discarded. Information that is out-of-date presents a significant risk to the organisation.
All these steps are equally important but may be the responsibility of many different people. This is where information governance and information polices become important. Even setting up an information lifecycle for a specific category of documents and information, such as corporate policies, could have important benefits to the organisation. This is an area where a close working relationship needs to be established with internal audit and compliance staff, and of course the records manager.