Seizing Opportunities: Information is the new oil – Paul Heffernan

A new saying which has come into vogue recently is ‘Data is the new oil.’ Another quote which shows the ever present importance of data is ‘Data is the lifeblood of business.’ These may be a result of the massive step forward in information governance which is the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Due to GDPR it appears for the first time that businesses are taking notice of the importance of the information under their control. We, as information professionals, are uniquely positioned to take full advantage of this realization. Our training gives us a unique ability to showcase the importance of information and records to those who previously took a devil may care attitude to the control of information in their possession. We can show them the rewards which can be reaped from the careful management of information and reap both financial and professional rewards for ourselves.


The value of the information industry is illustrated by the face that five of the most valuable listed firms in the world are Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. These five companies combined collected, in net profit in the first quarter of 2017, $25bn. Google and Facebook alone accounted for almost all the revenue growth in digital advertising in America last year.¹ If these figures do not show the value of control of information nothing will. Regardless of the form that the information is created from it will still need to be managed, tracked, moved and monitored. It is estimated by the McKinsey Global Institute, an organisation which monitors developments and changes in the global economy, that 543 terabits of data flows across borders every second. This is the equivalent of roughly 13 million copies of the complete works of Shakespeare.² The economic significance of data has changed along with its velocity and volume. Physical goods no longer dominates global GDP, data is now the most valuable commodity. It has become nothing less than the lifeblood of global capitalism.


Thanks to GDPR, companies are now beginning to realize the gaps in their information management systems, gaps which records managers and archivists are more than primed to step into. Newly qualified professionals are particularly suited to the control of information and records in the digital age; most of us grew up with Facebook, Twitter and a variety of other social media. We always had the entirety of human knowledge at our fingertips in the form of a quick Google search. Most archives and records management courses now offer modules in both digitization and digital records management. Records and information allow companies to identify, monitor and vet their clients. This allows them to prevent the movement of money or goods which could be used for illicit purposes and thus prevent them from becoming liable to massive fines and prosecution. Control of client information also allows companies to secure their clients’/customers’ information and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Correct control of information and records at least in the business world can also allow companies to recognize and take advantage of gaps in the market ahead of their competition.  

One of the truisms of data protection is that, at its most basic, if your records management is good you should have no issue with data protection. Like grizzled oil prospectors of the 19th and 20th centuries which dug through useless soil and dirt, archivists and records managers work with information and records everyday. They grow to have the best idea of what information is held by an organisation and what can be useful. They can spot opportunities in the records or mistakes and prevent companies from becoming vulnerable to the new fines. This will save the organisations which they are working or a lot of money and presumably show the same organisations how valuable the information professionals they have working for them can be. While ARA, both in Britain and Ireland, has been very busy in lobbying the governments of both countries to try and ensure the new legislation that’s required to make both countries compliant, it is up to individual archivists and records managers in their organisations to keep pushing the importance of their roles and skills. GDPR gives records managers particularly more backing when explaining the necessities that is required for their job and demanding more resources. There are many opportunities available to an intrepid records manager or archivist to exploit in this brave new world of information and data-based commerce: it is just a matter of recognising them and seizing them.  

Paul Heffernan, Records Manager


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