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Information Quality Professionals as Consumer Advocates

Originally published November 12, 2009

Information Quality and the Customer Impact

Information quality (IQ) professionals must always remember that they work for the interests of the external customers, end-consumers and the internal knowledge workers if they desire to add value to their enterprise, whether a commercial, not-for-profit or government entity. The entire purpose of information quality management is to enable effective process management to meet the needs of the external and internal information consumers.

In this article, I want to speak to the role of IQ professionals as consumer advocates, not just for internal requirements but to delight those who truly pay the bills of the enterprise, whether taxpayers who pay the bills for government services, or by buying the goods and services of a retailer, bank or contributing to not-for-profit organizations that can provide food and shelter for those not able to provide for themselves.

The current global economic crisis has revealed that many large financial institutions have exploited their customers for several years now, with devastating results to society. Unemployment in the U.S. has now risen to over 10% of the working population. Without jobs and income, consumers cannot stimulate the economy. But banks and investment companies are challenging governments and regulators who want to reduce the exorbitant compensation programs and bonuses that are way out of line with the value of their work delivered to their customers. The massive stimulus programs that governments have put in place will have to be paid back eventually if society is to survive and prosper.

The challenge for IQ professionals today is to help executive leadership bring back a true customer focus for those who pay the bills. Deming’s Point 1 of Management Transformation states, “Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service.” “The obligation to the Customer never ceases.” “The consumer is the most important part of the production line.” (Information Quality Applied, p. 41.) Juran states that “the first step of quality planning is ‘to Identify who are the customers,’ followed by ‘determine the needs of those customers.’” (Information Quality Applied, p. 41). Quality is a customer determination, according to Armand Feigenbaum; it is not an engineer’s, marketer’s, product developer’s or manager’s determination. Therefore, one must understand the real requirements (demands in quality function deployment) in order to create products that meet or exceed customer expectations. Information quality requires you to understand all downstream knowledge workers and their requirements for the information you create or maintain.

To Serve or Exploit One’s Customers

There are two types of exploitative behavior that impact your customers. The first is when you deliberately set out to create products that “appear” to address customer needs, but in the long run exploit them by increasing interest rates or insufficient-funds charges, for example. This usually preys on those least able to pay, causing home foreclosures and bankruptcies.

The second type of exploitation is when we fail to improve broken information processes that cause downstream processes to fail. Every hour you spend recovering from process failure and performing information scrap and rework is an hour you cannot spend performing value-adding work. If products and information are not determined to be quality by customers or knowledge workers, they will likely take their business elsewhere. Internal knowledge workers do this by creating their own private – or hidden – information factories where they keep their own information. Invariably poor quality information alienates customers, driving them away along with their customer lifetime value.

“Speak with Data (Facts)”

You cannot guess the status of IQ. You must measure it. The most critical measurement is the accuracy of information to knowledge workers. It is easy to measure validity of information by comparing data to established “valid values” or to conform to specific “business rules,” but data can be valid and conform to business rules and still be not accurate.

Accuracy assessments can be performed only by comparing the data to the actual real-world object the data represents.

The most important data in helping management understand the importance of information quality is in measuring the costs of poor quality information, both direct costs and opportunity costs. When you quantify the costs and losses of business, management will take a closer look at the problems and will invariably begin to invest in process improvement initiatives that will produce a positive return.

Use Proven Quality Management Tools

There are several scientific methods or techniques from quality management that work well with information quality management and help you understand and meet information consumer requirements. They include:
  • Supplier-Input-Product-Output-Customer (SIPOC): A tool to help product or information producers’ quality by identifying the suppliers and the information they need to perform their work, and to understand their downstream information consumers’ requirements for the information they create and or maintain.

  • Quality Function Deployment (QFD): A tool to help product and information product developers to understand the needs of the internal and external customer requirements. QFD captures the voice of the customer (VOC) and translates this into requirements for the product or information. QFD is effective for information systems personnel who engineer and design information systems and enterprise-strength databases.

  • Statistical Quality Control Charts: These measure process performance to understand the degree of variation in the product production to determine “process capability.”

  • The Plan-Do-Check/Study-Act Cycle (PDC/SA): The fundamental process improvement technique developed by Walter Shewhart. This defines how to identify root cause, define improvements to prevent recurrence, check/study to ensure successful improvement, and act to put the process in control and roll out the improved process to all areas performing the process.

  • Root-Cause Analysis: A tool for identifying root causes out of possible causes in order to identify improvements that prevent recurrence of the root cause.

  • Poka Yoke: Techniques that error-proof processes to prevent causes of defects in products or information.

Enabling the Information Quality Revolution

My new book, Information Quality Applied: Best Practices for Business Information, Processes and Systems, available now, describes all of these principles, tools and techniques and how they apply to improving information quality in core business value circles.

In addition to the 800 plus pages with more than 200 illustrations, the book features easy-to-follow, step-by-step guidelines for how to perform the processes of the TIQM Quality System for Total Information Quality Management. And there is more. Those who buy the book will have access to the book’s website for additional forms, glossary of TIQM terms, additional best practices and more.

Let me hear from you at: Larry.English@infoimpact.com.

  • Larry EnglishLarry English

    Larry, President and Principal of INFORMATION IMPACT International Inc., is one of the most highly respected authorities in the world on how to apply information quality management principles to Total Information Quality Management. He has provided consulting and education in more than 40 countries on six continents. 

    Larry was featured as one of the “21 Voices for the 21st Century” in the American Society for Quality’s Journal Quality Progress in its January 2000 issue. Heartbeat of America, hosted by William Shatner, awarded him the “Keeping America Strong” award in December 2008 honoring his work in helping organizations eliminate the high costs of business process failure that enable them to eliminate the high costs of business process failure caused by poor quality information. Larry was honored by the MIT Information Quality Program for a Decade of Outstanding Contributions to the field of Information Quality Management in July 2009. You may contact him by email at Larry.English@infoimpact.com.


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