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Simplify for Success - Conversation with Dennis Kiker



Dennis Kiker was on Simplify for Success, a podcast series presented by Meru Data and hosted by Priya Keshav. Dennis discussed how organizations can understand the impact of new systems.


According to Dennis, establishing a technology council that includes key stakeholders has been a helpful approach in such situations. Additionally, he felt for Information governance professionals to be successful, they have to be able to articulate the value of IG to C Suite members. He also shared how breaking down a complex task into individual parts has helped to identify areas for improvement and enabled simplification.


Thank you to Fesliyan Studios for the background music.






Listen to the full podcast below:


Transcript:


Priya Keshav:

Hello everyone, welcome to our podcast around simplifying for success. Simplification requires discipline and clarity of thought. This is not often easy in today's rapid-paced work environment. We've invited a few colleagues in the data and information governance (IG) space to share their strategies and approaches for simplification.

Today, we will be talking with Dennis Kiker. Dennis is a litigation attorney licensed in Virginia, Arizona, and Texas with extensive experience in information governance and e-discovery. He's a member of DLA Piper's e-Discovery and information management platform. Dennis has a broad range of industry experience. The experience of an all-season litigator and a lifelong interest in technology. Dennis also brings a unique perspective to the e-Discovery and information management practice. He has provided both legal and business advice to companies working on everything from discreet information management challenges to complete discovery response programs, providing him with an intimate understanding of in-house challenges associated with management identification, Preservation, and collection of information.


Hi Dennis.


Dennis Kiker:

Hey, how are you, Priya?


Priya Keshav:

Very good. You had many years of experience in developing and implementing enterprise-wide IG programs in the technology industry. How do you build a business case for IG? Any tips that you can share?


Dennis Kiker:

You know, it's interesting because I think we've had this conversation recently, but I think the answer to this question is going to be very situational and I don't think it's the same for any given company at any given time or even the same company at different points in time. In fact, I think in my experience, let me put it this way. In my experience, IG is often kind of the interest, the inspiration, so to speak, is kind of a bottom-up phenomenon and it's driven by some circumstance or event. You know you have a merger, or you have large-scale litigation, or you have a systems migration or something, and that interest is very tactical in nature. How do I combine these two big contract management systems, but I think to be successful, any large-scale initiative has to be enabled, empowered from the top-down. So, I think to me, the way to generate interest and as I said, I think this typically begins with the tactical folks who somehow have to generate interest across a diverse group of leaders within their company. Basically, if it's going to be an enterprise-wide program like you said and you're talking about significant investments of time and money, then you've got to get buy-in across a number of different individuals within the C-Suite and what drives them is different. So, I think what I've seen is that IG professionals have to become adept at translating the value proposition of IG, of the initiative they want to embark on in different terms to different constituents. You know the CFO and the CIO both have a common shared interest in financial concerns. But the CIO has a lot of other interests that are pulling at her staffing infrastructure, technology road maps, other considerations that need to be tapped into and I think it's a real talent that IG professionals need to develop. You know, I need to be able to articulate this value proposition in different ways to different members of the C-Suite so that I can build a consensus buy-in to get that top-down empowerment because otherwise, I don't think you're very successful. You can be, I think, successful in pockets on smaller initiatives, but to really go enterprise-wide, it has to be top-down and you've to be able to articulate that value proposition across the C-Suite.


Priya Keshav:

I do agree. Every time we have worked on an IG program. It's after something reactive, but there can be other situations that sort of emphasize the importance of IG programs. For example, privacy has now brought a lot of awareness around the need for better data management and digital transformation and the whole covid itself, right? So, the situation that we're in, has made it very, very obvious to the C-Suite that they need to proactively look at managing information and if it is an asset, then it's something that needs to be managed. And any risks around data, which is the opposite side of the coin, also need to be understood.


Dennis Kiker:

I think you're exactly right. You make a really good point because I think we're beginning to see the C-Suite recognize, and they have for a while in some ways, but really recognize the asset value of data and the risk potential of data and it has to become an integral part of their business planning. As you said, privacy is huge with CCPA and everybody else coming into the fore and I might argue that those are situational things that kind of spur movement, but I think you're right. I think there is a maturing perspective of how the C-Suite views data as an asset and as a liability.


Priya Keshav:

That's true, so you brought up some good points too. You talked a little bit about whether this starts off from a tactical project where you can accomplish something very meaningful and, for the most time, it starts off as a tactical project because of the need to show immediate results. Because enterprise-wide router program requires a lot of foundational work that might not look cool and driving immediate results. But how do you balance the need to show immediate results versus setting the expectation that it's important to do the groundwork? Some of these programs are going to be multi-year programs, but it's going to bring the fruit that people are kind of looking for overtime.


Dennis Kiker:

Yeah, it's a really, really good question. One thought I had as you were speaking is, I think one of the messages that I like, and I think many companies, bigger companies, mature companies are recognizing is that I think you even have to get out of your mind the idea that IG is a multi-year program that kind of suggests that it's going to be something that starts and has an endpoint. Whereas you don't think of it in that way, you don't think of your finance department in that way or your manufacturing operation as a program. It is an integral part of the way you do business, and so I really think it's important to engender that mindset within the organization that this isn't something that we're going to start and one day complete. This is beginning a way of doing business, transforming a way of doing business in how we manage those assets and liabilities of information.


So, I think that's an important distinction that's crucial to make. But again, I think that going back to the actual question, I apologize. You know, it's interesting because I think that I have seen IG programs launched by success on pretty small and simple operations. Let's imagine we've got a nice big, mature company that has recognized the need for this for privacy reasons for all of the various reasons that we've talked about that we need to manage our information assets better. So, let's start doing this, even in that circumstance, I think it's really important, to begin with, initiatives that can demonstrate short-term wins. I agree 100% that you have to lay some foundational, there's technology, there are processes, then there's the procedure. There are human assets that need to be put into place, but I think it's really important for the IG team and professionals to identify some of those low-hanging fruit, short-term win projects, because like anything else in an organization you know, you can have all the long-term vision you want. But when the economy turns South, budgets get cut, and those initiatives that are not demonstrating success early on will get sidelined or budgets cut or will just be moved off of the center stage and so, I think that as you're laying those foundations and Azure Building the framework for long term success, it's really important to identify and every company has them. Every company has opportunities to demonstrate on a small scale what can be accomplished long term on a large scale, and I think it's important to identify some of those and go after them and demonstrate through metrics that the company has made the right decision, that the company is investing money in the right thing because returns are already starting to show up.


Priya Keshav:

I do agree, so you have to balance the need to set the expectation that this is not a project, this is not something that is going to start and stop, but it's a new way of life. But as we start the new way of life, it doesn't mean we have no way to measure ourselves. We can start thinking about, you know, measurements. We can start thinking about both short-term and long-term projects and, perhaps, ways to make the short-term projects build towards the longer-term project so there are definitely ways to do that. There are two ways to simplify. One is breaking down the parts to reduce the complexity. The second would be to completely innovate. Find a new way to execute the same task. Would you choose one over the other? If not, what are your thoughts on simplifying?


Dennis Kiker:

Yeah, it's a great question and we had a brief LinkedIn message conversation about this, and you know, it's interesting because I had not thought about this as two separate tracks or two separate ways to do something. But they are certainly very different perspectives that are important. In my own view of it, as I thought more about it is that they are both probably necessary. I, in my own view of and I think in terms of choosing one over the other in the way my mind tends to work, is process-based. So, I think in most cases, I begin with breaking down the tasks and reducing complexity, and because I think that is how you sometimes find that new innovative way to execute the same task. It might be just because I have that kind of process-oriented linear brain, but that's the way I go. I think through these kinds of things is I'm going to look at the existing process, I'm going to break it down to its component parts and really understand that process. Understand which tasks are unnecessary, which tasks are over-complicated, which tasks can be improved through technology and it's through that exercise that you then begin to open up the ideas for “What could we do? How could we do this completely differently”? I think it's sometimes hard to take in a complex process. A complex way of doing things or managing enterprise or operating a system and right out of the box, say I'm going to do this completely different and I'm going to without starting first with breaking down the parts and reducing the complexity. So, I really appreciated how you broke that down and it made me think that way and think of the process that I would typically approach, and it would start with the simplification, followed by the innovation.


Priya Keshav:

So, it depends. A little bit on who you are and a little bit on the culture too. But I'd like to kind of offer a slightly different viewpoint here. So, if you are simply optimizing to where you're breaking down the parts, eliminating unnecessary tasks, maybe finding a new way to kind of get there, most of your innovation would probably be increment. But if you want disruptive innovation, it's very hard to get to disruptive innovation, though disruptive innovations are hard, obviously, there are a lot of cultural challenges that come with it. And sometimes, it's timing, it's sometimes a lot of different factors that lead to whether the disruptive innovation is taken up, but almost always with respect to disruptive innovation, you don't get to optimize your way towards it, you kind of lift and shift and so it's just the way you operate. You know they're not necessarily as I said, as you said, they're not definitely two different paths there, probably two ways, and maybe both can coexist together as well.


Dennis Kiker:

Yeah, but you know there is a reason why one of us owns a technology company and the other guy is a lawyer at a law firm. You know, it's interesting because there are people who are like me, Dennis Kiker you know. Before I was a lawyer, I was a process engineer, so that's kind of the way my mind works. And there's a reason I don't have a big app and not living on a hill somewhere so, but there are people who are able to do that, and I completely agree that it's a different thing when you're talking disruptive innovation. Then you really do have to be able to divorce yourself from the status quo and the way things are done now. And I think maybe sometimes by breaking it down and looking at it really closely, that can come. But I think you're right, I think there are people who are innately able to kind of do that and say “let's imagine something new”, “let's throw this out”. And I think there's a place for both of these in every enterprise. I think if every really lucky IG executive would have both kinds of talents on their team so that they could, you know, be able to continuously improve what they've got while being open to the new and innovative ideas.


Priya Keshav:

So, can you share some examples of how you have simplified to succeed in the past?


Dennis Kiker:

Yeah, it's a good question and one that immediately can't come to mind. At our former mutual employer, we're implementing robotic process automation in the e-Discovery process and so before we could do that, we had to actually just break down the entire process of what we did with our data from beginning to end. All of the human and machine interactions from the point of initiation to the point of completion, and it was while breaking down that process that we were able to identify the tasks that were either redundant or unnecessary or were amenable to automation. And by first breaking it down and exposing everything, and we did some time studies and cost studies for each task and aspect of the process, we're able to identify those that could be eliminated, those the RPA could be applied to, and even just during that process, you gain productivity by simplifying and streamlining the process and eliminating extraneous and redundant activities. Then, when you implement the augmentation, you see those further productivity gains. So, that's an example of that kind of former process we talked about, of breaking down the existing process into its component parts and simplifying in order to innovate in the tactical non-disruption way that I've done recently.


Priya Keshav:

So, it's not just productivity gains, right? So, when you simplify, and you eliminate, or you think through the process. Yes, you obviously can remove certain parts and that kind of results in a better, more efficient process from a productivity standpoint. But it also the quality of your output, the ability to succeed, especially IG is an area where you end up sometimes with uncertain outcomes, and that's because you know, I've had other people bring this up again and again- it's people. It's not just about getting people to agree to the changes, it's about removing miscommunications, it's about removing, what I would call missteps and sometimes miscommunication and missteps happen because of making the process more complex than it needs to be, right? So, when you're trying to make the process more complex or not communicate what is needed that impacts not just productivity, but the quality of your output, the ability to succeed also kind of goes down.


Dennis Kiker:

No, I think you're exactly right and you also made me think of another dimension of this that I think is too often overlooked. Whenever I've gone through this kind of process of simplifying and you know, eliminating unnecessary tasks and making processes more efficient, improving the quality you're eliminating tasks that are the tasks that nobody wants to do in the first place that they're not intellectually challenging that are not fulfilling, and I've seen in 99% if not every case that the folks who are now responsible for the execution of that process have higher job satisfaction. They enjoy their work more because they're not encumbered by minutiae that not only is not interesting and engaging, but it also is frustrating because it leads to error and reworks and those sorts of things that tend to make a job less satisfying. And so, I think an ancillary benefit that probably builds on the quality improvements that you mentioned is the higher level of job satisfaction of those folks who are actually doing the work.


Priya Keshav:

I can’t agree more. Yeah, I think it makes sense. So, what role does technology play in building the IG program, and how have you leveraged technology in the past to solve IG problems?


Dennis Kiker:

I don't think information governance was a word before this was true, but I don't think you can separate technology from information governance. I think that technology drove this whole sphere, of operations, this discipline. And so, it's important than the ever-changing role that IG has in building the IG program. You know, in the very first instance of understanding where to begin and the systems and applications and business processes that you're going to attack and approach in the very first place. But the ongoing improvements in technology to enable information governance have been tremendous. A really good example of that, I think most of us have had any experience in this is just, you know, love or hate it, Microsoft Office 365 has done some really good things for the ability to manage a big chunk of our business, you know communications and our business documents and so forth. The ability to be able to search across unified searching across all of these different platforms and methods of communicating and identifying information preserve information, clean up information, tag information, I think that those are the capabilities that I've seen in technology that have really helped to jumpstart information governance programs are these abilities to go cross-platform and understand and identify information through commonalities and be able to work on data and work on identification and elimination of data through technology. I remember when we first started thinking about information governance, and we were still calling it records management or records and information management back then, and the technology wasn't there. Every application, every system was different. They had different search contracts and syntaxes and so it was a huge challenge to try to go into a company and actually help it do anything with its data, you were stuck with the low-hanging fruit. Whereas today we're beginning to see in Office 365 has just been a good recent example of where we've been able to leverage the improving nature of the technology itself to help manage the information within those repositories.


Priya Keshav:

Good points, I would say the challenges still exist because most organizations use Office 365 but they probably also use a box or they use dropbox in some instances, especially unapproved versions of dropbox or sometimes approved versions of it and then you still have data in different systems and the searching across all of these platforms, it's becoming easier.


Dennis Kiker:

No question about it. I mean, you know we're working with one company now who are in information technology, you know, Internet-based companies. So they've got everything- they got their proprietary platforms, they've got slack, they've got the box, they've got Dropbox, they've got O365, they got G-suite. They have literally everything and so you are exactly right. It is still the Wild West in many ways, but I guess what I'm trying to say is, the good news is that each of those individual platforms that I talked about and other technologies that can be plugged into them is making it easier. So, it’s kind of going to the connection of what role does technology play? I think it's just integral, I can't think of almost anything that you're going to do with IG that doesn't involve technology apart from hiring the really smart people and the people who are going to run the program and developing processes and procedures, but with technology, you're trying to manage information living in technology, leveraging technological solutions either in situ or you know from external applications. So, it's just so intertwined that and that is real. It's interesting that is a huge challenge for all IT professionals or IG professionals is to continually stay aware of and have at least the level of understanding of the different emerging technologies and the way they are unique in the way they are similar so that you can begin to employ your processes or procedures or policies in those different technologies.


Priya Keshav:

So, what are some of the biggest challenges that you face? And any tips that you can share and how you have overcome some of these challenges?


Dennis Kiker:

Gosh, I'm you know, I'm going to be interested to see when you have your 30,40 podcasts out there. I bet you have 30,40 different answers to that question. When we were talking once about this, I think that each of us as individuals who are participating on one level or another in information governance across industries, all have unique experiences working with different companies at different points in time with different technology suits and out all of these things that make different circumstantial, and you know impetuses arising that are driving the initiatives. So, the biggest challenge for any IG professional is likely to be somewhat unique to his or her circumstances.


Having said that, I think one that crosses boundaries is just the pace at which technology develops. It's just mind-boggling. You know, I began fixing computers in 1980, so that was a long time ago and I was, you know, we had many computers at Digital Equipment Corporation and it took years, then the PC. But now the rate at which technology is developed and implemented and rolled out and adopted Is astonishingly quickly by the enterprise. That is a huge challenge just to stay on top of what in the world your organization is using and how can we begin to manage that asset and the information that's going into and out of and through that asset is an enormous challenge and one thing I really encourage companies to do is to establish a formal sort of an enterprise technology committee where you have business professionals from the different business units and IT and information governance and just to make sure that everybody with an interest in investment in this is aware of what's happening in the organization and what new technologies are on the horizon are being implemented right now as we speak that we'll need to have governance, which will need to have. You know, what are the privacy implications? What're the cost implications? All of those things are bundled together, and so I think that if without an ongoing high-level enterprise-wide discussion about those things then you're just always going to be chasing the ball and you're never going to have any hope of staying abreast of the changes that are happening.


Priya Keshav:

Amen, so yeah, I agree it's easier said than done because we just can't get out of silos. I mean, one of my biggest frustrations, if I could use that word. Which is, you know, I managed security. I live in my security silo and somehow that's my area of focus. I live in privacy, so that's my silo. We all love our silos and the technology committee, it's so important. And the more silos or tracks that we have, the more we don't have a way to bring that transparency, and without that, you go nowhere. So, I agree, I think that's one of the biggest challenges. And it's only getting worse with all the changes that are coming our way. I think we have accelerated. You would have seen you probably read about this every day. We're all accelerating our digital transformation efforts. I'm a small company, but right now minute I have three different teams sessions because they're part of three different networks, and then I have a zoom and I have a Google meet and slack and you know all on at the same time and running right so and I have calendars with each one, and it's just a completely crazy state of affairs and the amount of information we're creating. I can say this, as a small technology company, the number of subscriptions we’re sort of signing onto because we want a license to use X and a license to use Y Because every and all of these things is important because as an organization, you need to be able to create information and produce information and share information. And that's what kind of drives these subscriptions and licenses. But if you don't have a centralized way to manage it, there's no way we're getting ahead of this game at all.


Dennis Kiker:

You know you're so right and you know we'll finish this, and I love these discussions because they're just, you know, you get excited about it, and you get inspired and then you'll hang up and you'll go back to your day job and the walls go up and your blinders go on and I'll be wrapped in my world of litigation and all that stuff. So, you're exactly right, and overcoming that is maybe you hit it. The biggest challenge with IG is overcoming those silos and breaking down those walls so that things can actually happen.


Priya Keshav:

Well, great insights and tips to share with the audience today. So, thank you for taking the time and participating in this podcast. Dennis Kiker:

Well, you're very welcome. I'm looking forward to hearing what others have to say.


*Views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the view of Meru Data.*



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