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Is There Something Rotten in the State of Dataland?

  • August 01 2001, 1:00am EDT

Kaoru Ishikawa, the early Japanese quality guru said, "Speak with data."1 Well, the data is in – and it doesn't look good. According to a survey of 120 information professionals at the DAMA-I/Meta-Data Conference in Anaheim, March 2001, today's data administration, DRM or IRM (data or information resource management), appears to have failed to accomplish even the most basic objectives. Out of ten basic objectives of information resource management, not one was accomplished by a majority of the respondents. Only one objective was accomplished by more than one-third of the respondents, and that was only 40 percent. The good news is that five respondents stated they had accomplished at least seven of the objectives. The bad news is that represents only four percent of the 120 survey respondents. Furthermore, only 15 percent had met as many as half of the ten objectives.

This column addresses a part of the survey results and analysis. The complete results and analysis may be found at by selecting the IQ Resources button and then selecting the "Newsletters and Articles" section. If you would like to participate in the ongoing survey, select the "IRM Survey" button on the home page.

Some Not-So-Fine Findings

Data NON-Standards:

What does it say about the state of IRM when only one-fourth of us have implemented effective data standards that are followed for all new development? What CFO develops a standard chart of accounts and then allows managers to ignore it and define their own account codes? What human resources director establishes a standard benefit package for the enterprise and then tolerates managers disagreeing with it and creating their own benefits packages for their staff? What CIO allows IRM to develop data standards and then lets development teams ignore them and create their own standards for their projects? According to the survey, three out of four CIOs allow this practice. Masaaki Imai correctly states that to realize quality, the enterprise "must manage various resources properly on a daily basis. These resources include manpower, information, equipment and materials. Efficient daily management of resources requires standards."2

Data Repository/Dictionary

Inventoryless in Dataland:

What does it say about the state of management of information resources when only one out of five of us have at least 75 percent of our operational data defined in a repository environment accessible by business personnel for communications and by systems personnel for impact analysis and reuse management? What manufacturing plant manager would tolerate having inventory counts for only 75 percent of the raw materials required for manufacturing? What retail store manager would accept having inventory counts for only 75 percent of the items they sell? Why don't four out of five IRM managers demand that the important facts required to run the business be inventoried?

Information Policy

Clueless and Guideless in Dataland:

How can we expect the enterprise to behave correctly with respect to information when only 11 percent have implemented information policies at the same level as financial and human resource policies that are followed by the enterprise? The sole reason for financial policy and human resource policy is that bad things can happen when the enterprise does not behave in an appropriate way in the use of its industrial-age resources (capital, people, materials and facilities). In fact, people can be terminated for violation of these policies. However, does it not matter if bad things happen if the enterprise does not behave in an appropriate way with respect to the use of the information-age resources (information and people)? Who is looking out for the information resource and providing guidance for its proper use? According to this survey, only one out of nine enterprises is doing so.

As much as I would like to report otherwise, the data reveals a tragic lack of effectiveness in implementing the fundamental objectives of IRM. IRM is defined as the planning, organizing, directing and controlling of information as an enterprise resource: conceptual data model development, physical database design, information inventory control (repository management) and may include information quality improvement. IRM means the establishment of policies, standards and processes to define, communicate, secure, measure and improve the management of information at the enterprise and business unit levels.

Crisis in IRM

There is a crisis in information management. The processes used to direct, manage and control the enterprise's second-most important resource are out of control. How shall we transform the IRM functions so that they are repeatable, permanent and effective to accomplish true information resource management? Who is going to lead IRM out of this crisis?

A successful information quality or information management initiative requires not management commitment but active management personal involvement and transformation. Business and information systems management must change how they perform work in order to accomplish the transformation or culture change for effective information management.

IRM has always represented a paradigm shift from the status quo of project-by-project data (mis)management. To implement an effective business-centric IRM environment requires:

Understanding of one's real customers and their requirements, the business drivers and business objectives of IRM, and the paradigm of IRM itself.

Faith and trust in one's beliefs, continually testing them to assure they are correct.

Courage to challenge the status quo of the old paradigms that have been the root cause of poor quality information systems.

Leadership to influence and educate others and create positive change.

Perspicacity and perseverance to implement effective and repeatable IRM processes.

I, for one, believe the objectives of IRM are not only achievable – they have been by a small minority – but they are mandatory. Without effective IRM, organizations are at risk in the increasingly complex world.

Key Questions

1. Do we understand what IRM is and what business results IRM must provide the enterprise?

2. Do we understand the mission-critical objectives of our organization and how IRM helps accomplish them?

3. Have we gotten sidetracked by all the glitzy new technologies and techniques?

4. Do we have the right personnel in the job?

5. Are our consultants leading us in the right direction?

6. Do we believe the software providers when they tell us their tool is the solution and the only training needed is how to use it?

7. Have we abdicated our responsibility to be change agents to transform the organization to become an information-age enterprise?

8. If your IRM function has not accomplished the key objectives or been as effective as it should be, have you conducted a root cause analysis? 3 An important lesson from quality management is that until we discover the root cause of a problem, we condemn ourselves to implement the wrong solutions, simply "swatting at the symptoms" rather than creating effective improvement.


1. Ishikawa, K. What is Total Quality Control? Prentice-Hall, 1985.

2. Imai, M. Gemba Kaizen. pp. 19-20. McGraw-Hill, 1997.

3. English, L. Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality. Chapter 9, "Improving Information Process Quality." Wiley & Sons, 1999.

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