One year ago, many people celebrated the arrival of the new millennium. Now, twelve months later, that new millennium has finally arrived officially. In the Gregorian calendar, there was no year 0 A.D. nor 0 B.C. The year 1 A.D. was the first year of the first decade, first century and first millennium A.D.
The millennium confusion illustrates a significant type of information quality problem data definition quality. What scares me is that we often take data definition flippantly. Especially in the IT industry, we often disregard the importance of robust definition of business terms and data, resulting in impaired business communication.
This month I welcome you to the new millennium and challenge you to a new millennium's resolution. Now, I do not practice the ritual of making new year's resolutions that I have no intention to keep, but the concept of resolution to improve is important. Steven Covey's Seventh Habit, "Sharpen the Saw," is about renewal and improvement at all levels physical, spiritual, social and professional.
To improve, we must understand the fundamental truth that to improve, we must first resolve to improve. If we are to solve information quality problems that sap our enterprise's profits and threaten its existence, we must resolve to do so. The first point of information quality is, "Create constancy of purpose for information quality improvement."1 W. Edwards Deming, who led the Japanese into constancy of purpose for quality in the last half of the twentieth century, established the business case. "Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs."2 In the knowledge age, organizations can be competitive, stay in business and maintain jobs only if they have a vision based on customer satisfaction, capable empowered employees and capture, maintain and exploit quality information.
Any new millennium resolution must be individual and personal for each of us. Point 14 of information quality reminds us that every process is a candidate for improvement. What processes do you perform? Who are your customers (internal knowledge workers as well as external end customers)? Are your customers delighted with the products you provide them? If not, go to your customer and discover their expectations for your products and services. Next, analyze your processes to identify the cause of unsatisfactory products. Then plan, implement and confirm a process improvement that eliminates the cause. Sometimes, part of the cause is defective input that you receive from other processes. If so, go to your information supplier. Share your expectations with your suppliers and work together to improve the process to delight your customer.
What's in this for you? When you improve your processes, you have every right to expect the same from your information suppliers. Having conducted a process improvement, you can teach others, leveraging your value. The cascading improvement effect will radically reduce the costs of scrap and rework due to nonquality. This increases productivity and competitive capability. More importantly, it increases employee morale and job satisfaction by eliminating wasteful information scrap and rework.
Information quality improvement is a win/win/win proposition. When everyone improves their processes for their internal customers, some of those customers will, in turn, be your suppliers. So your internal customers win, you win as a result of your suppliers' improvement and the end customers and stakeholders win as a result of the reduced costs and increased profits.
Former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, no doubt best remembered for the Watergate scandal, said something on his sixtieth birthday that I still remember. He did not remember every birthday, but he did remember where he was on each of his decade birthdays. How will you remember the first year of this new millennium? What will you accomplish this year? Something that will improve yourself, your organization and its processes, and your own processes? Will you increase your customers' satisfaction in your products and services?
I challenge you as I challenge myself to create constancy of purpose for improvement of information processes and information products so that our organizations may be competitive and stay in business. If we do not improve our own processes whether developing data models, designing databases or Web sites, developing applications, reengineering business processes, or creating or maintaining information then we may just be contributing to the problem and the demise of our organization.
1 English, Larry P. Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality. New York, New York. John Wiley & Sons. 1999. PP. 339-341.
2 Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study. 1986. P. 23.
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