One of the questions I am frequently asked is: What is the best information quality (IQ) software product? Before I answer the question, I must address some misconceptions about software product evaluation in general.
Misconception 1: The Best-of-Breed Criterion
To select software products based on best-of-breed criterion can result in sub- optimization. This is appropriate only when the product is always a standalone product and never needs to be an integrated part of a larger value chain. Several organizations that selected supposed best-of-breed products now have problems interfacing a series of basically incompatible software products. Their costs of maintenance go beyond the value they receive for those best-of- breed products.
The real criterion for evaluating any software product is: What is the best fit for our organization? This evaluation criterion balances:
- The features and functions of the IQ products.
- How the product helps the organization solve its business (not just technical) problems.
- How easy it is to integrate and maintain in your environment (cost of ownership, not just cost of acquisition).
Chapter 10 of Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality describes five classifications of IQ tool functionality and the problems each category of functionality addresses. General limitations of each category are described along with some specific evaluation criteria and guidelines for IQ product evaluation.
Misconception 2: The Tool Is the Solution
If software products were the solution, you could install them, run them and the problems would disappear. The reality is that IQ products are tools that can be used (to add value) or abused (sub-optimizing and creating new problems).
To exploit IQ products you must understand that the solution is a formula:
Empowered and trained people
+ Defined business objectives (problem and root cause understood and addressed)
+ Defined IQ process(es)
+ Exploited IQ product(s)
= IQ Solution
The answer to "What is the best information quality (IQ) software product?" is "It all depends." It depends on the problems you need to solve, your budget and your environment. To determine the right answer for your organization:
- Understand and define the business problem(s) you seek to solve. Analyze and understand the root cause. Defects, like illnesses, are symptoms. Data defects are symptoms of broken processes, not just applications. Discover the root causes of the problems so that your solution attacks the cause, not just the symptom. If a physician treats only the patient's symptoms without diagnosing the cause, the end result could be fatal. If IQ practitioners only attack the symptom of defective data without understanding the cause of the broken process, the results can be costly to the organization.
- Understand the categories of tools that address the root cause of the problems. Discover how the functionality and specific product features address the problems.
- Identify candidate IQ products. The IQ Products section in IQ Resources at www.information-quality.com describes more than 70 IQ product suppliers and products in six categories of IQ tools with Web site links.
- Understand the limitations of the IQ tool categories you are evaluating in order to implement the right processes and process improvements to overcome the technology limitations. These include additional custom code, training, process improvement, performance measure changes and others.
- Understand the costs of implementing and maintaining the IQ products you are evaluating. Always ask, "How can I do this using your tool?" as opposed to "Does your tool do this?" Understand the differences and what you the customer of that product must do to achieve the desired result.
- Understand and implement IQ principles and processes that exploit the tools. Who are the information customers and producers of the information requiring quality? How do you measure customer satisfaction? How do you measure information quality? How do you correct, reengineer and transform data? How do you improve processes that produce defective data? Implementing IQ tools without understanding and implementing IQ principles and processes will result in a partial solution at best.
What may be the right software tool for one organization can be wrong for another. Evaluate products based on the "best fit" to meet your organization's specific needs. The value of IQ tools depends on how well you understand the problems you seek to solve and how well you understand IQ principles and implement quality management processes that exploit the tools.
My experience confirms that what matters most is how well one uses and exploits their software products.
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