Blog for October 2020 Seminar: Information as an Asset and the Hawley Report

In 1995, a ground-breaking report, Information as an Asset: the Board Agenda (which came to be known as The Hawley Report) was published. This report called for a recognition of corporate information as a strategic asset and laid out the responsibilities of boards to identify their information assets and to ensure that these are managed appropriately and deployed to best advantage. It was developed by a group led by Robert Hawley, the CEO of Nuclear Electric, and aimed firmly at boards and senior executives. The report itself disappeared from view for several years after publication, but it remained an important milestone in corporate knowledge and information management.

In 2017, CILIP and KPMG launched a joint programme of work to plan and deliver an updated version, which was published in February 2019 as Information as an Asset: today’s board agenda’. This was based on a survey of over 540 respondents who gave insights into their respective organisations. The authors noted several developments in the field since the original Hawley report, including the importance of AI, text and data analytics, machine learning, and robotics; the development of systems which learn faster than humans; the growth of ‘big data’; the increasing need to protect information assets; and the socio-political climate around recognition of the value and management of personal data. In early March 2020, a further report, ‘The Edge of Intelligence’, was published by the Financial Times.

Twenty-five years on from the original Hawley Report, the information landscape has changed considerably, but the need to manage information as a corporate asset is arguably greater than ever.

NetIKX was pleased to welcome Stephen Phillips, an information professional whose experience spans over 30 years and includes having been Global Head of Business Services at a leading investment bank, to provide an overview of Hawley’s legacy and the subsequent developments within corporate knowledge and information management. Stephen took us through the key themes of the three reports and posed the question of how organisations are dealing with the current COVID-19 crisis in addition to those challenges already facing them pre-pandemic. Key findings of Dell’s recent Digital Transformation Index emphasised the importance of knowledge sharing, extraction of insights from data, skills in data analysis and related disciplines and the need to make business decisions based on data in real time. This survey was undertaken in July and August 2020, so reflected concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic more closely.

Although some issues raised in the Digital Transformation Index are specifically related to the current crisis – such as lack of economic growth and the need for increased cybersecurity due to home working – the key themes from The Edge of Intelligence remain relevant.

Stephen went on to explore these four themes, which reflect the areas where most companies lack confidence about their competencies – limited horizon scanning, ‘lost in translation’ (bridging the gap between data science and operational expertise), technical failure, and ‘data without democracy’ (sharing market intelligence across functions). In the 2019 Information as an Asset report, market research was consistently viewed as the most reliable source of intelligence, but there are signs that this may be shifting – particularly in light of the growing importance of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT). The McKinsey COVID Response Center has produced a set of response tools for business leaders which highlight the importance of talent (a factor which was notably ranked low in responses to the FT survey) and supply-chain resilience, as well as cybersecurity and the need to re-evaluate analytics models.

Drawing on the information from these sources, Stephen then invited us to consider a proposed set of priorities for what has come to be called ‘the new normal’:

* accelerated decision-making

* horizon-scanning

* data deluge

* talent

* democratising data

* insight

* intelligence and knowledge

* ethics and integrity

This formed the basis for discussion in the breakout sessions, where we shared our own views and experiences of issues such as the risks of decision-making based on algorithms, the increased role of social media in sharing information (or disinformation!) and the continued need for us as information professionals to convince others of the commercial value of knowledge and information management. As we navigate the ‘new normal’ – whatever that may turn out to be – our skills are increasingly needed.