This month begins the second decade of my "Plain English about Information Quality" column for DM Review. Where is the state of information quality (IQ) management and where is it going?

While interest in IQ is increasing, we have not seen the tipping point that will put IQ on the map of must-have functions in business management.1

Current State of Information Quality

Process failure and information scrap and rework caused by defective information costs the United States alone $1.5 trillion or more. With this much cost, you would think profit-concerned management would jump to invest in IQ management. But most management is removed from where the pain of information scrap and rework is felt. They aren't the ones hunting, chasing, verifying and fixing defective information before they can do their jobs.

The revolution will not happen if we do not understand the fundamental principles of quality management applied to information. While the IQ revolution should not need to follow the missteps made when the manufacturing quality revolution took place, many are making the same mistakes made in the first quality revolution.

Most - but not all - organizations start their IQ journey with an inspect-and-inform or inspect-and-correct mentality. The first misconception is that all you have to do is measure IQ, let people know the problems, and they will automatically solve the problems. We should know this will not work, because it does not tell people how to solve the problem.

The second misconception creates a permanent information scrap-and-rework environment that perpetuates broken processes and institutionalizes data cleansing.

Both of these fail to bring real value to the enterprise because they fail to analyze and address the root causes of defective information.

Lessons Learned from the Manufacturing Quality Revolution

The industrial-age quality management approaches started with the inspect-and-correct model, called scrap and rework. Inspection originally sought to prevent defects from getting to customers. Scrap and rework constituted the work of fixing defective products or scrapping them if not fixable.

The transformation in manufacturing quality came when IQ thinkers realized the quality problem was a process problem. The goal was not to fix the defects (scrap and rework) but to prevent the defects by designing quality into the manufacturing process. This maturation should teach us that we do not have to make the same mistakes to successfully implement quality principles to information.

Creating the IQ Revolution

The fundamental principles we must understand to create a proactive IQ environment include:

  • IQ, like manufacturing quality, is customer-focused. Employees, external customers and end consumers are information consumers. Understand your information customers and discover their IQ requirements.
  • Invest in process improvement. IQ happens by improving processes and designing quality into processes to prevent errors, and by presenting information to knowledge workers in an intuitive and unbiased way.
  • Use proven scientific methods, such as statistical quality control, Pareto diagrams, SIPOC (supplier-input-process-output-customer) charts and the plan-do-check-act improvement cycle.
  • Hold managers accountable for information created by their staff to meet their downstream information customers' requirements. Currently most managers are accountable for their budgets and personnel, which represent the industrial-age organization. Peter Drucker correctly states that knowledge has become the capital of the developed economy, and management must be accountable for the second most important resource in the information age.2

To bring in the cultural transformation required to sustain effective IQ management, understand the three dynamics required to start the transformation:

  • Vision. Develop a vision of what the end will look like in an effective IQ environment. This includes a credible business case of benefits. (A business case is only possible with process improvement - not data cleansing only.)
  • First steps. Identify the next steps to achieve the vision so management can embrace and champion your cause. Do not expect sympathy if you only call attention to the problem.
  • Dissatisfaction. Help management feel the pain of the status quo; otherwise, there is no reason for management to change.

To learn more about the steps to take to bring in the IQ revolution, see a template of 20 steps found in Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality.3

What do you think? Let me hear at Larry.English@infoimpact.com.

References:

  1. Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000.
  2. Peter Drucker. The New Realities in Government and Politics/in Economics and Business/in Society and World View. New York: HarperBusiness, 1989, Reissue Ed., 1994, pp. 180, 186.
  3. Larry P. English. Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999, pp. 427-449.

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