Conducting an Information Audit

Last Updated Nov 16, 2007 5:20 PM EST

As the pace of technological change accelerates, organizations have to make decisions ever more rapidly, which means they need systems in place to support that decision-making process. Accurate information is the key to effective decision-making. However, it is easy to become sidetracked by junk e-mails and information overload. An information audit will enable you to find out whether your information systems are up to the task.

What You Need to KnowWhat's involved in an information audit?

An information audit requires an inventory of the way people and technology mix to be sure that the right people get the information they need in the right form at the right time. It also requires a means of evaluating the costs and benefits of the system providing the information.

Inventory checks include specialist, and perhaps untapped, human resource skills, and process and information flow charts, as well as technological tools, databases, and knowledge stores.

How will an information audit benefit my organization?

Your organization will learn:

  • what information is being circulated but not being used to advantage;
  • what information is needed but is unavailable;
  • the differences between what is needed and what is available;
  • what has to be done to match demand with what the organization is able to deliver;
  • how to best deliver the needed information to its potential users.
What to DoUnderstand Your Current Situation

Before you can find out where you are going, it is essential to learn the facts about your present situation. Get a picture of the importance of information to the organization and an understanding of the organization's objectives and targets. You will also need to understand its management culture and its organizational structure. This establishes the context and perspective for discovering those information resources that are available to the organization, how it uses them, how information flows (or fails to flow), and how the information is valued.

Secure the Resources You Need to Do the Job

Put together an audit team. You will need people with sufficient knowledge, experience, judgment, and standing in the organization to carry out the investigation. The team will need to establish a method for performing the investigation, gaining access to the appropriate people and documentation, getting the time it needs to carry out the requisite tasks, and securing support from the top.

Decide On Your Approach

You will need to have an approach that will guarantee consistency across the organization. In order to do so, set up a framework that includes the following considerations:

  • What information do staff members acquire, create, process, or transmit?
  • Who and what are involved in these activities?
  • What control procedures are in place for these activities?
  • Which types of information are used a lot/a little/not at all?
  • Which types of information are needed but unavailable?
  • What budget is allocated and what budget controls are in place?
Establish the Means of Assessing Effectiveness

You will need to determine the importance of the data you gather. 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, storage, and delivery of this information is a primary consideration, but it does not necessarily indicate the effectiveness, or even the performance, of the information resource, activity, or result that relates to it. Value or effectiveness is assessed in more interpretive 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.

Gather the Details

An information audit should ascertain at least the following:

  • What information do staff members acquire? From which sources? At what cost? How is it used?
  • What information do staff members 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 the information that 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 to them?
  • Are there any control documents such as policy statements or guidelines?
  • Is any of the information superfluous?
  • Are any of the information-handling activities nonproductive?
  • What budget is available? How was the budget figure reached? How adequate is it? Who controls it? What control measures exist for it?
Make a Flowchart of the Data

Map out a flow chart to show the areas, processes, functions, and activities through which information passes, identifying any gaps, bottlenecks, or roadblocks in the way of the smooth flow of information.

Evaluate the Effectiveness of Information Resources and Activities

When the data sets are assembled, ask the following:

  • To what extent does this activity or resource support or help to meet objectives?
  • How efficient is it in terms of its time and cost?
  • Are any positive or negative results directly or indirectly related to it?
  • Does 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 in which results are not forthcoming because no one has responsibility for the information process?
Report Your Findings

Focus on the areas of mismatch in which no useful outcome is visible, and on the people, skills, and resources that are required to remedy the situation. Conclude with recommendations for action.

What to AvoidYou Underestimate What It Takes to Do the Job

It takes time, skills, expertise, impartiality, and honesty to gain a thorough, flexible, and updatable view of what is happening—where it is good and where bad—and what must be done now and in the future to keep up with the pace of change.

You Evaluate the Data on Cost Alone

It is a mistake to evaluate information and the information gathering process only on the basis of cost. The timeliness, relevance, and accuracy of the information, its impact on efficiency and productivity, and its contribution to decision-making are too often taken for granted or ignored altogether. The needs of your employees, the overall culture and structure of your organization, and a method for relating the resources and activities of information gathering to the goals and objectives of the organization must be taken into consideration as well.

Where to Learn MoreBooks:

Laudon, Kenneth C., and Jane P. Laudon. Management Information Systems: Managing the Digital Firm. 10th ed. Prentice Hall, 2006.

Pearlson, Keri E., and Carol S. Saunders. Managing and Using Information Systems. 3rd edHoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005.