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KAIZEN and Information Quality

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The 1999 Information and Data Quality Conferences,1 held this year in London and New Orleans are now over, but the impact continues. At the conclusion I was exhausted and invigorated; exhausted because it was hard work and invigorated because there was much knowledge transfer and learning exchange.

The attendees learned not just how to do data warehousing, but how to do data warehousing right. They learned that information quality is not just how to measure data quality, but how to measure the business costs of nonquality information. They learned that information quality improvement is not just data cleansing; it is also finding the root cause and fixing the process to prevent recurrence.

The conference attendees were most fortunate to have Mr. Masaaki Imai as a keynote speaker. Mr. Imai, founder of the KAIZEN Institute, is renowned worldwide for his development of KAIZEN2 and for his leadership in helping organizations around the world decrease their costs and improve customer satisfaction through developing the habit of continuous improvement.

KAIZEN and Information Quality Improvement

This column shares some of the concepts and principles of KAIZEN as presented by Mr. Imai and describes how they apply to information quality. The word itself comes from two Japanese words: kai meaning "change" and zen meaning "good" (for the better). In business, KAIZEN means "continuous process improvement involving everyone in the organization."

The message of KAIZEN is that the burden of making information quality happen does not rest solely on the shoulders of the information quality team. Information quality is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. The team must raise awareness to the problems and threats to business effectiveness if there are problems in information quality and facilitate information quality to happen. While the GartnerGroup correctly states that poor data quality is the norm rather than the exception, most organizations are truly in a state of denial about it. However, awareness is growing, not just to the extent of information quality problems but also in understanding the extent of the business costs. This trend emerged from an information quality survey conducted at both conferences when compared with surveys conducted at the 1998 Data Quality conferences in Europe and North America.

KAIZEN and Information Quality Objectives

The goal of KAIZEN ­ and information quality management ­ is to increase profits or net revenue by achieving quality, cost and delivery (QCD). As an outcome, QCD means that if an organization produces quality goods or services at a reasonable price and delivers them on time, it will satisfy its customers and, in turn, those customers will remain loyal, increasing customer lifetime value.

The realized outcome of information quality improvement is not the state of quality of data in a database or data warehouse. It is a reduction in the costs of process failure and information scrap and rework caused by nonquality data. The order of QCD is significant ­ quality first, cost second and delivery third. If you get information quality right, these other two can happen easily. Compare this with the "on-time (D) within budget (C)" by which most information systems projects are measured.

KAIZEN and Information Quality Standards

To realize QCD, however, requires an organization to manage its resources properly every day. These resources include people, information [emphasis mine], equipment and materials. To manage any resource requires quality standards. Whenever problems occur, management must analyze them, identify the root cause, revise the standards and improve the processes to prevent recurrence.3

To manage information as a resource requires quality standards driven by the information customers ­ those knowledge workers who require information to perform their jobs. Process owners of the processes that create the data must implement and ensure that information quality standards and processes are in place to ensure that the data produced meets all information customers' requirements.

For data warehousing, the importance of this cannot be overstated. Indeed, the product of the data warehouse is information. The prospective consumers of the data warehouse information products must identify the decisions they will make or the processes they will perform. They must define the risks and process failure that can occur if the information is missing or wrong. From this, you can estimate the business costs of nonquality data. This will establish the quality standards for the data.

But quality standards do not just apply to the warehouse. They apply even more importantly to the source databases and information production processes. After all, this is where much of the data warehouse data originates. If quality standards are not met here, not only does this force expensive data cleansing processes for the warehouse, it also causes process failure for the processes using the data at its source. If you only correct data in the warehouse but not in the source databases, you create a new problem ­ inconsistent reports and queries produced from the source systems compared to those from the data warehouse.

Next month's column addresses the five principles of Gemba Kaizen: what do you do when you find information quality problems?

If you did not attend the 1999 Information and Data Quality Conferences, visit www.infoimpact.com to see what you missed.

Do you have an information quality success story to tell? Share your experiences at the Information Quality Conferences 2000 in Anaheim, September 24-28, 2000, and in London, October 17-20, 2000. The call for presentations may be found at www.infoimpact.com.

I am always interested in reader comments. Please send e-mail to Larry.English@infoimpact.com.

1 The Information and Data Quality Conference Europe held in London, October 11-13, 1999, was organized by TTI UK. The 1999 Information and Data Quality Conference held in New Orleans, October 31-November 4, 1999, was organized by The American Society for Quality (ASQ), The Data Warehousing Institute and INFORMATION IMPACT International, Inc.

2 KAIZEN is a registered trademark of the KAIZEN Institute and means "continuous improvement involving everyone in the organization."

3 Masaaki Imai. Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management. New York McGraw-Hill. 1997. P. 19-20.

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