Editor's note: This is the fifth article in a series focusing on key information management disciplines. Read the introductory article here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.

Good leadership and innovation have long been recognized as key drivers behind a successful corporate strategy. Research has indicated that good leadership contributes to an atmosphere that enhances corporate performance and contributes to the successful implementation of corporate strategy.

A similar analogy can be drawn with quality - specifically information quality. Quality is the driver behind many successful corporate initiatives, and information quality in recent years has emerged as a discipline that is critical to the success of information management. This development can be attributed to a lack of accurate information required to make timely business decisions. This in turn has had a negative impact on businesses in myriad ways, including lost opportunities, inability to identify and manage risk, and regulatory and audit issues. These events have prompted organizations to take a closer look at the quality of information being processed and used in business decision-making.

Organizations need to take a holistic approach to the management of information quality. Simply attempting to fix quality at the system level will not suffice. An information quality program needs to be implemented across each step of the information lifecycle. The quality program will need to be all encompassing in its scope, and quality rules and processes must to be implemented at each entry point of information into the organization. These rules need to be adhered to as the information flows across the organization.

The high-level goals of the program should be outlined in the project charter. A successful quality program must be well-defined and will need to encompass the following functions to ensure that processes are measurable, repeatable and automated. This ensures that objectives of the program are clear, tracked and reported on at a predetermined frequency, and such a process provides clear ROI to the business sponsors of the program. Ensuring the quality and integrity of information by the implementation of such a program will help mitigate any risks and issues over time.

In order to implement the program across an organization, the leaders must communicate the message effectively. Each department within the organization has its own goals and objectives that need to be fulfilled. Management and teams are occupied and consumed with performing and executing tasks in order to meet these goals. Ensuring the successful implementation of a quality program will require aligning relevant components of the quality program with each division’s annual objectives. Appropriate components of the quality program need to be rolled into the objectives of the different groups. This means that the quality program will need buy in and gain executive sponsorship at the highest levels of the organization.

Once an Information quality program has been adopted, the challenge to the sponsor will be to ensure the appropriate implementation of the program. A quality team and leadership should be identified with participation from groups across relevant lines of business.

Next, determine the key business functions within the organization. It is very likely that these functions will revolve around some familiar themes. Who, what, where, by whom and how much will likely be the primary questions around which the quality processes will revolve. These are fundamental functions that drive most organizations. The management of the processes that pertain to customers and products are of critical importance. Most of the resources of the program will be devoted to these two primary areas. In very large organizations, several functions that support these key areas will themselves be large in scope. All key business processes that support these goals will need to be identified and closely analyzed.

Identify all authoritative systems of record and put them through a rigorous quality process in order to ensure the quality and integrity of the information. This is of primary importance, because these systems of record are the primary source of key pieces of information. This information is then distributed across the organization. If the information at the source is of the highest quality, then any system that is the recipient of the data is assured to be of high quality and integrity. For example, Product can be an authoritative system of record. Product can be comprised of several attributes, such as type, line, class, name and packaging.

The next step is to identify the entry of information into each key area. Where is the information source? Is the source the authoritative system of record for that particular piece information? What is the current state of the information in terms of quality? Has the source system performed any quality procedures on the information that is distributed? These are some of the key questions that need to be addressed.

If various systems do not use the deemed authoritative system of record, then appropriate processes need to put in place to achieve this - a task that is easier said than done. These systems will have been in production with various dependencies tied to them, so the impact and effort involved in such a change will need to be analyzed and estimated. All this will boil down to cost, but these are issues and challenges that the overall corporate quality program will have to account for. Hence, it may make sense to start out with a pilot program, identify needs, issues and challenges that will be encountered prior to attempting to implement the program at an enterprise level. This approach ensures that most challenges are identified and accounted for upfront and appropriately estimated in terms of risk, challenges, resources and cost. It also improves the chances of success of an enterprise-wide implementation.

Once the information has been obtained and stored, it needs to be profiled to determine its quality and integrity. This is the system-level body of work that each key process and system will need to implement.

This entails the profiling each of the key attributes of the system, and involves identification of key business drivers and the attributes that relate to these drivers. Drill down into some of the key activities involved in profiling: What are the goals in terms of profiling? What has the group set out to achieve in implementing the exercise?

At a fundamental level, some of the profiling activities are related to domain constraints:

Optionality or completeness of the information: No null or blank values exist in the attributes. The records that do not conform to this rule need to be identified. Once this is done, further analysis needs to be performed to determine the cause of the defects. Has the information been simply passed down from the source system in this fashion? Or has the information somehow become corrupted within the system being profiled? If so, how did it happen? What events led to the information defect? Perform root cause analysis to determine the cause of the defects.

Format of the information is the next category, and any deviation from predetermined rules needs to be identified. Is the information in the format defined by business rules for each attribute? Does each attribute conform to a predetermined format? If not, the root cause analysis mentioned above for completeness will need to be repeated for format.

Validity of values needs to be determined by profiling the information. Is there a list of values that the information can be compared to? If so, are the values valid? If not, we go through the same steps of the root cause analysis for this category.

Finally, consider the precision of the information. Is the information within a reasonable range?

Once the cause has been identified, appropriate remediation and prevention measures need to be implemented to prevent future occurrences. Measurement and remediation at predetermined intervals should be the ultimate goal of the program. Regular reporting to the sponsor will ensure the program is successful and provides a means of ROI at the executive level. This process applies to any level of complex profiling and remediation efforts.

The above approach provides a basic framework with which to kick start a quality program. Once this approach has been implemented and is successful, further enhancements can then be built into the existing framework. More rigorous rules could then be applied that test various dependencies, referential integrity and timelines.

The final installment of the series will run December 23.

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