Mismanagement of information is sapping corporate wealth, says Bill Cannings. Bill Cannings is managing director at Valid Information Systems.

Ask any law firm finance committee how much they spent on stationery, rent or entertaining in 1997, and they could tell you in a instant.

Ask them how much of their corporate wealth they wasted last year, and they would look at you as if you were from another planet.

Corporate wealth is the stuff they are surrounded by but it is never seen. It is hidden away in cupboards and drawers, or sits on window sills. Some people hide it on computer disks or tapes while others carry it around in their heads. Some absolve themselves of all responsibility, put it into cardboard boxes and send it off to be hidden in huge warehouses.

The corporate wealth to which I refer is information.

Professionals spend most of their life gathering information and then hide it away so that it cannot be found. Most lawyers make the decision to retain only the information that they know is important.

Lawyering is a solitary profession, and although a lawyer may work in a busy department of a large law firm, often they work on an individual project. Often the client will insist on this.

Even in a team, the information is dispersed when lawyers work on individual aspects of a matter, and material is collated by a senior.

In most cases, the original file is closed and eventually finds its way into storage. A bible may be produced, which looks good, but what of the information that has been researched, discarded, printed, or just retained in the brain?

Who is to blame for this state of affairs.? I think it was the Right Honourable Kenneth Baker.

Kenneth Baker was given responsibility in the Conservative Government for the computer industry, which was renamed the Information Technology, or IT Industry.

Did this mean that IT directors and managers were responsible for information? Of course not. With the proliferation of computers in the last 18 years they have had their work cut out keeping pace with new developments in the computer sorry IT Industry.

But as their title is IT director, an assumption could be made that information is their business. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The skills required of a gatherer, collator and provider of information are not the same as those accorded to a specialist in the design, procurement and implementation of a sophisticated, computerised, infrastructure.

So, ultimately, Kenneth Baker has created a whole generation of specialists who know little about the subject to which their title alludes.

Increasingly, information corporate wealth falls into storage. Last year an analysis of the growth of off-site storage of paper and data showed that paper storage appears to be growing at about 40 per cent per annum and data at about 70 per cent. Invariably, once this information leaves the office it is lost for ever.

Firms need to take radical action to address this problem now. Technology is available to manage information, while computer storage will become cheaper, and networks faster.

A policy of data extraction from paper needs to be adopted. Digital data should be retained and searchable, rather than printed and discarded.

Perhaps we should also drop the IT director title, and use "Technology Director". We could then have an Information Manager who would look after our corporate wealth.