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E-Government and Information Quality

Originally published May 10, 2006

Good quality information can be defined as information that meets or exceeds the expectations of all processes or information consumers who use that information. The expectation may be that the information conforms to a certain format, that all relevant information is complete, that the information is consistent (i.e., John Smith isn’t flagged as female), that the information is accurate or that the information is not duplicated.

While the current citizen experience of e-government is in transactional processes such as paying motor tax online, the scope of e-government is much broader. It ranges from the management of key reference data for processes such as the electoral register to the rollout of more complex processes to enable citizens to interact with the state through the Web, mobile phones and other emerging technologies.

In the context of the rollout of more complex processes, the experience from the commercial world in the implementation of customer relationship management (CRM) and similar business process change programmes is that one of the biggest contributory factors to failure is a failure to acknowledge and address the issue of non-quality information. Indeed, the problems of poor information/data quality were clearly identified in the Comptroller & Auditor General’s report into the Personnel Payroll and Related Systems (PPARS) project.

As more complex processes are implemented that span multiple departmental boundaries, any e-government strategy will necessitate a change in culture to break down the barriers between departments to allow the necessary information to flow across the government “enterprise.” This was the recommendation of Gartner experts who met with the Irish Government last year. This is also a key best practice in the management of information quality in order to foresee problems and avoid the creation of disparate data.

A 2004 study on attitudes about information quality in the UK public sector conducted by QAS, a software vendor, found that:

  • 99% of those surveyed felt that information was a critical organisational asset.
  • 80% recognised that poor quality information impacted quality of service and improvement of service quality.
  • 50% viewed a lack of best practice procedures and/or a clear strategy for the management of information quality as a key root cause of current problems.

The survey also suggested that many public sector bodies could improve their information quality if someone with influence over the whole organisation were to take responsibility for the information strategy.

80% of respondents viewed address data as being important to e-government initiatives. To quote the survey: “Knowing where your citizens live and staying abreast of this as they move house is a cornerstone of any aspiration to deliver better services through e-government.”

This brings us neatly to the issue of the Electoral Register. The Sunday Tribune, a leading weekly newspaper in Ireland, recently identified that the Electoral Register was overstated by up to 30%. The response of the Minister responsible (the person with “influence over the whole organisation”) has been to push responsibility back to the local authorities and has labelled the work of some authorities as “appalling.” However, information quality best practice tells us that negative incentives without methods to improve quality drives up fear and benefits may only be short-lived. What is required is clear leadership to improve electoral data capture processes and reduce the risk of this level of error. This should be done in line with best practices in information quality management.

The centralisation of the actual Register, with local authorities retaining data processing functions is a strategy that could be explored. Certainly the provision of leadership (as opposed to sound-bites) from within some body that would have influence over all the local authorities (perhaps, dare I say it, the Minister for the Environment) and would deliver a standardised set of processes, information standards and controls around Electoral Register information is an essential first step.

The approach the government takes to addressing the Electoral Register issue will reflect the understanding the government has of the role of information quality in e-government initiatives. As the full scope of e-government becomes clearer and as the complexity of processes and the nature of the information becomes more mission-critical, then the challenge for government is not to tackle the information technology issues but to address the information quality issues that will underpin effective e-government. Failure to do so gives rise to the potential for further embarrassing failures in e-government projects.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about information quality management principles, come to the ICT Expo half-day master class this May in Dublin to hear key guiding principles and best practices from one of the thought leaders in this area. For details, visit http://www.iaidq.org/.
  • Daragh O Brien
    Daragh is the Founder and Managing Director of Castlebridge Associates. He has a degree in Business & Legal Studies from University College Dublin, and is a Fellow of the Irish Computer Society. He has developed and taught courses in Information Quality Management and Data Protection for a number of organisations in Ireland and has provided consulting services across industries as diverse as health care, telecommunications, and financial services. Prior to founding Castlebridge Associates, Daragh worked for over a decade for a leading Irish telecommunications company in roles as diverse as Call Centre operations, Single View of Customer Programme management, and Regulatory Compliance and Governance. Daragh is a regular presenter and trainer at conferences in the UK and worldwide. Apart from his consulting and education work, Daragh is also an active member of the International Association for Information & Data Quality. He lives in Wexford in the South East of Ireland and can be reached at daragh@castlebridge-associates.com.


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