Treating Data as a Product, guest author: James Funk

By Richard Wang

Welcome to this new column dealing with issues related to information quality and information management practices that impact information quality in organizations. In our conversations it is our hope that we will help you understand what constitutes good information quality and start you and your organization on a journey to improved information quality. We intend to discuss the root causes leading to poor information quality and practices that have been implemented in organizations around the world that deliver improved information quality.

It is our intent, during coming conversations, to highlight the research efforts that have been sponsored and supported by the Total Data Quality Management Program at the MIT Sloan School of Management, MIT Information Quality Program and the practical application of those research efforts at organizations around the world.

Rather than starting by defining the term “information quality”—we will eventually share with you our definition—we will start by discussing what we believe is the key principle necessary to start and sustain any successful program or business process dedicated to improving information quality. This key is “To treat information as if it were a product”.What we basically mean is that information should be treated as a deliverable from a business process that has value for the person (internal or external to an organization) that is the consumer of that information. Unfortunately, in many information system development efforts or business process improvement efforts, organizations primarily focus on the people involved in the process, the technology associated with the process, and the process itself.

To paraphrase an old television commercial, one would like to stop and ask “Where’s the Data”?

Let’s take a brief look at the comparison between product manufacturing and information manufacturing. Product manufacturing is usually viewed as a business process that acts on raw materials to produce physical products that meet a consumer need. One can view information manufacturing as the execution of a processing system acting on raw data that produces information needed by the information consumer.

We have identified four roles that are part of the information manufacturing process. These are the information collector, the information custodian, and the information consumer (we referred to them as the 3 C’s) and the information product manager. We will more fully explain these roles in a future column.

Since the information produced from an underlying information system is the function of all the activities in the design, development and deployment phases of the system development cycle, each stage must be carefully considered as a potential target for information quality improvement. For example,

  1. The information designed into the system is not the information required by the information consumer,
  2. The testing of the software for the system is not robust, causing the information manufacturing system to function erratically, and
  3. The personnel responsible for entering raw data into the system are not trained properly resulting in errors and corrupt information.

Just as it is possible to initiate continuous improvement for the actual manufacturing process, a process of continual improvement can be developed for the information manufacturing system. As areas are identified with poor information quality, the problem can be defined, metrics specifying the extent of the information quality problem can be developed, the situation can be analyzed to identify the root causes for the problem, and a plan of action for improvement can be specified. After the action has been taken, the improvement can be ascertained by comparing the updated metrics with the original metrics. If needed the improvement process can be repeated.

We feel that it is necessary to develop an environment within an organization that treats information as a product if it truly is going to sustain improvements for information quality. As part of that environment, it is necessary for organizations to understand the needs of their information consumers, to manage information as the product of a well defined information manufacturing process, to understand and manage the life cycle of their information products, and to appoint champions called information product managers who manage the information manufacturing processes and the resulting information products. In our next column we will explain in more detail what these actions entail.

We look forward to our continuing conversations about information quality and wish you success in your information quality journey. In future columns we will discuss the critical roles that are part of the information quality environment, the 4 major activities that are necessary to treat information as a product, and look at the issue “Is Information Quality a boardroom issue?”. If you have questions about what we have discussed or want more clarity about what we have said, contact us at eitherjimfunk@mit.eduorrwang@mit.edu, or go to the MIT IQ web sitehttp://mitiq.mit.edu

About the Author

Richard Y. Wang is Director of MIT Information Quality (MITIQ) Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also holds an appointment as University Professor of Information Quality, University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Before heading the MITIQ program Dr. Wang served as a professor at MIT for a decade. He also served on the faculty of the University of Arizona and Boston University. Dr. Wang received a Ph.D. in InformationTechnology from MIT. Wang has put the term Information Quality on the intellectual map with myriad publications. In 1996, Prof. Wang organized the premier International Conference on Information Quality, which he has served as the general conference chair and currently serves as Chairman of the Board. Wang’s books on information quality include Quality Information and Knowledge (Prentice Hall, 1999), Data Quality (Kluwer Academic, 2001), Introduction to Information Quality (MITIQ Publications, 2005), and Journey to Data Quality (MIT Press, 2006). Prof. Wang has been instrumental in the establishment of the Master of Science in Information Quality degree program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (25 students enrolled in the first offering in September 2005), the Stuart Madnick IQ Best Paper Award for the International Conference on Information Quality (the first award was made in 2006), the comprehensive IQ Ph.D. dissertations website, and the Donald Ballou & Harry Pazer IQ Ph.D. Dissertation Award. Wang’s current research focuses on extending information quality to enterprise issues such as architecture, governance, and data sharing. Additionally, he heads a U.S. Government project on Leadership in Enterprise Architecture Deployment (LEAD). The MITIQ program offers certificate programs and executive courses on information quality. Dr. Wang is the recipient of the 2005 DAMA International Academic Achievement Award (previous recipients of this award include Ted Codd for the Relational Data model, Peter Chen for the Entity Relationship model, and Bill Inman for data warehouse contributions to the data management field). He has given numerous speeches in the public and private sectors internationally, including a thought-leader presentation to some 25 CIO’s at a gathering of the Advanced Practices Council of the Society of Information Management (SIM APC) in 2007. Dr. Wang can be reached at rwang@mit.edu, http://mitiq.mit.edu