Since 2001, the Information Technology Information Library, better know as ITIL, has been gaining momentum globally. This column will give a brief description of what ITIL is, how it can be applied to business and its commonality with data quality management. The ITIL framework and any industry-standard data quality initiative share many of the same goals and processes.
Conceived by the British Government in partnership with several large IT shops, including HP, IBM and BT, so-called "best practices" were documented and combined to form the various parts of ITIL. In its basic form, ITIL is a lifecycle modeled on the Deming Cycle; an iterative group of processes, one feeding the next in a continuous loop as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: The Deming Cycle
Each piece of the cycle is a process in the ITIL framework. While there is much more to ITIL than will be discussed in this column, I will focus on service management, which consists of the service support and service delivery pieces. These pieces are comprised of several processes that each has a specific action in the cycle. The core processes in service support and service delivery as defined in the itSMF glossary (http://www.itsmf.com/bestpractice/lookuplist.asp?Type=3&Letter=S) include:
- Service desk provides the single point of contact between the service provider and the users. A typical service desk manages incidents and service requests, and also handles communication with the users. It is actually considered a "function" rather than a process.
- Incident management is a process responsible for managing the lifecycle of all incidents. The primary objective of incident management is to return the IT service to customers as quickly as possible.
- Problem management is a process responsible for managing the lifecycle of all problems. The primary objectives of problem management are to prevent incidents from happening and to minimize the impact of incidents that cannot be prevented.
- Change management is used to control the lifecycle of all changes. The primary objective of change management is to enable beneficial changes to be made with minimum disruption to IT services.
- Release management is responsible for planning, scheduling and controlling the movement of releases to test and live environments. The primary objective of release management is to ensure that the integrity of the live environment is protected and that the correct components are released. Release management works closely with change management.
- Service level management is the process responsible for negotiating service level agreements and ensuring that these are met. SLM monitors and reports on service levels and holds regular customer reviews.
Figure 2: CSIP
The ITIL uses these core processes to answer questions asked by its Continuous Service Improvement Plan (CSIP), such as:
- Where do we want to go?
- Where are we now?
- How do we get to where we want to be?
- How do we know when we have arrived?
The answers to these questions are used to improve the level of IT service and support given by any company's IT shop.
But as to the original question about the commonality between ITIL and data quality, the processes of any good data quality program asks the same questions of itself that CSIP asks, such as how to determine the desired level of data quality, how to assess its current state, how can the process used to enter the data that caused poor quality be fixed, how to correct the data that is already in our systems and, importantly, how can we maintain the level of data quality we want?
Just as ITIL requires the support of management to be successfully implemented, data quality programs will succeed or fail based upon the support of the decision-makers. Once embraced, a data quality programs first step is to establish data governance. A data quality control board needs to be formed that will direct the organization in terms of desired levels of data quality. Ownership and responsibility must be established. Persons with the authority to assign resources, both financially and personnel assets, have to be on board and maintain an understanding of the data quality effort underway.
ITIL uses the concept of a service desk to report problems; while a physical service for data quality may not be a feasibility, a data quality reporting tool, in which quality issue are logged, can be a great indicator of data quality trends and anomalies. ITIL's incident management and problem management processes are mirrored in the data quality activity, since in order to answer the question, "what level of data quality do we currently have," data quality assessment needs to be undertaken. When data quality issues are identified, the root cause of the problem must be determined. ITIL's change management and release management study the identified root causes of problems and develop fixes that meet the businesses needs and releases them into production. This process will work perfectly when dealing with data quality problems. The question of fixing data that is already in our systems can also be addressed, although once the fix is in place, only then should the data in existing systems be updated. Fixing the data in the systems before you know why it is bad is counterproductive; but it may be necessary sometimes. Realize though that this is only a bandaid, you will have to do it again without process and system change.