Welcome to the New Year. It is hard for me to believe that this issue begins the seventh year of my DM Review column. We begin this year with a new column name, "Plain English About Information Quality."

Why the column name change? Words are important. The words we use communicate in subtle ways and conjure up images and connotations well beyond the words themselves. There are two reasons I have changed the name of this column:

1. Information quality (IQ), as a term, is more accurate, technically. IQ – even if you call it "data quality" – is not just about what is in the database. To have "business" quality of data, you must assure quality of three components: data definition, content and information presentation. IQ is about quality of the "information product specifications" that include data names (labels), definition, valid values and business rules that define integrity constraints. Without well-defined data, information producers cannot know what values they should create and knowledge-workers cannot know the meaning of the data they retrieve. My definition of data has two parts:

  • Symbols, numbers or other representation of facts;
  • The raw material from which information is produced when it is put in a context that gives it meaning." 1 Information is "data in context" (i.e., you know the "meaning" of the data). While many people use the terms data and information synonymously, Alan Freedman states, as technologies merge, "it might be more helpful to view information [as] the way data is defined and used." 2

The third component of IQ is "information presentation." Just as inaccurate data can cause processes to fail, unclear or ambiguous data presentation causes knowledge-workers to misinterpret the data and take the wrong action or make the wrong decision. This requires us to pay attention to the processes that create form design, screen design, graphic design and report design (whether electronic or manual).
Information quality, therefore, is a more comprehensive term that addresses quality of definition, content and presentation. However, this technical reason is not the only reason.

2. Management needs "information," not just "data." When I visit executive offices, I often find the term "data" has either clerical (data entry clerks) or technical (systems stuff) connotations; however, management needs "information" to run the business.

Invariably, information professionals tell me, "We need management support." To get management support, we need to:

  • Listen to and understand the problems that management has.
  • Speak "business language" as opposed to "technospeak."
  • Have a vision and clear plan for how what we do can solve management's problems.

The term, "information" is a more powerful word than "data" when communicating to management.

Forces Impelling Society to Address Information Quality

Information quality is getting worse today for those organizations without IQ initiatives. Additionally, the government is paying attention to the impact on consumers and enacting legislation to address IQ. Two major developments:

  • OMB Section 515, a.k.a., the "Information Quality Act." Effective October 1, 2002, federal agencies must have guidelines ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of information they disseminate; establish mechanisms for affected persons to seek and obtain correction of information by the agency; and report periodically to the OMB director the number and nature of complaints regarding the accuracy of information and how such complaints were handled.
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Effective August 29, 2002, this law requires CEOs and CFOs to personally certify that their companies' reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission accurately reflect their companies' true financial positions. Willful violation of this certification requirement is subject to a fine of up to $5 million and/or imprisonment of up to 20 years.

The State of Information Quality Today

What is the state of IQ today? The past six years have seen a steady increase in both the awareness of IQ as a management tool and an increase in the effectiveness of IQ practices and processes in leading-edge organizations. The past two years have seen especially significant growth in effectiveness.

Organizations presenting at our 2002 Information Quality Conferences in Denver and London reported dramatic recovery of costs of information scrap and rework (IS&R).

  • A telecom has recovered more than $100 million in IS&R costs.
  • A bank described how they recovered $60 million in IS&R costs.
  • A government agency shared how they recovered $28.8 million in IS&R costs (and this was a conservative quantification based on immediate process savings, not including benefit to downstream processes) on an investment of $3.75 million – an ROI of 767 percent.
  • A large manufacturing company shared lessons learned as they derived significant business value from dozens of IQ initiatives implemented in the very first year of their IQ program.

The information quality revolution is real, and it is happening now. If your organization has not yet embarked on the journey, join the revolution. For the ingredients of an effective IQ practice, see my cover story, "The Essentials of Information Quality Management," in the September 2002 issue of DM Review. Every day you delay, your organization is wasting as much as 20 percent or more of its operating revenue or budget in the costs of process failure and information scrap and rework.

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

1. English, Larry. Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. p. 468.
2. Freedman, Alan. The Computer Glossary. New York: AMACOM, 2001. p. 190.

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