Defining information boundaries provides a fundamental platform for organizational strategy


A little while ago I was interviewed for an article in CIO magazine titled Remote Control, which looked at the issues in having employees work remotely. The article quoted me as follows:

While companies tend to think of telecommuting and remote access as something to support domestic employees, business strategist Ross Dawson believes it will be increasingly important to offer access to employees and collaborators working overseas. He believes companies should strategically review their information holdings and identify what information they would benefit from sharing with trusted partners and clients, and then establish an information infrastructure to support that.

Dawson says a first important step for companies that want to create a collaborative environment is to perform a strategic information audit. “An organization can categorize its information three ways: information which is openly available, information which it is happy to share with trusted partners and information which it does not share. Once you have worked out which information sits where, then you put in place the supporting technology and business processes. So far very few organizations have looked at this from a business process and technology view,” Dawson says.

For a long time in my workshops and client work I’ve used the three core categories of organizational information, as illustrated in the diagram below, as a basis for strategy and organizational design.


The three categories of organizational information are:

1. Proprietary. This is information, such as trade secrets, that are never disclosed outside the organization.

2. Entrusted. This is information that is shared only with trusted partners.

3. Open. This is information that is openly and even actively shared with the world at large.

A very simple yet profound question for any organization is ‘what information falls into each of these categories?’ To answer this question well requires a long and considered process which few companies or government entities have undertaken. Yet it is hard to say you have a clear organizational strategy without having fully addressed this question. In fact for many organizations, answering this question well would provide a clear foundation for their long-term strategy.

Clearly it is simplistic to create just three categories for information. One of the first questions that arises in categorizing information is ‘who is a trusted partner?’. There are also certainly differing degrees of trusted partner, with varying levels of openness. Trying to micro-manage degrees of trust and information sharing is not viable for complex organizations. Yet to gain value from trusted partners – be they clients, suppliers, or alliances – requires high levels of disclosure. To whatever degree, responsibility for this must be devolved to the staff involved in managing the external relationship.

As we shift to a more interdependent and collaborative economy, the ability to understand the implications and value of appropriate information sharing is becoming a core business capability. If you don’t share information with partners, you become isolated and cannot extract value from your relationships. In almost all cases, in the case of uncertainty organizations should err on the side of sharing more rather than less. Yet there remain real boundaries to what it is safe or relevant to share. Understanding this balance is fundamental to successful strategy today.

1 reply
  1. Ben Kepes
    Ben Kepes says:

    Hi Ross
    Great post – we seem to be discussing similar themes. Bringing the web 2.0 collaborative/organic model to a wider audience – creating business 2.0.
    Keen to talk more about this sometime and perhaps….collaborate!

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