If information should be treated as a product, then it should be managed accordingly. All information should be assigned to a product manager.
Information should be managed over its product life cycle in the same way as a successful physical product. With a physical product, modification and improvement at different stages of a product’s life cycle ensures that the product remains competitive in the market. The extent of the changes and the time interval between changes depend on the nature of the product, the need it satisfies, and the competitive environment in which it is sold. So it is with information. The degree and frequency of changes to information products depend on the type and nature of the information, the tasks the information supports, and the changing context in which the information is used.
An integral part of treating information as a product is assigning an information product manager responsible for ensuring high quality data within the information product. Some organizations use the term “information product (IP) manager (IPM)” to represent a generic functional role in the organization. Different organizations will use different methods to implement such a role depending upon its scope of responsibility, position in the overall organizational structure, and overall organization philosophy.
Reasons to Develop an Information Product Manager Role
Why is it important to assign such an IP manager? Let’s look at a few examples. Chemical companies need to provide information about hazards relating to their products. As new hazards are discovered, the new scientific evidence must be incorporated into the appropriate materials systems. This iterative process of obtaining new evidence of hazards and updating the correct systems to reflect the new evidence would be the responsibility of an IP manager.
The websites of many companies provide a further example. A website is an information product, and site visitors are information consumers. Presumably, the website contains high-quality information that the company wishes to convey to its customers. Unfortunately, many companies do not treat the web site as an information product. As the Wall Street Journal reported, businesses leave “cyberspace increasingly littered with digital debris – websites neglected or altogether abandoned by their creators”. The result may be loss of customers or diminished sales because no one was responsible for the information product that is a first impression for potential customers.
The designation of an information product manager is necessary to ensure that relevant, high-quality information products are delivered to consumers. The IPM’s key responsibility is to coordinate and manage the three major stakeholder groups: the creator of raw information, the custodian of the deliverable information, and the consumer of the information. To carry out this responsibility, the IPM must apply an integrated, cross-functional management approach. The IP manager orchestrates and directs the information production process during the product’s life cycle to deliver quality information to the consumer.
Approaches to the Information Product Manager Role
An enterprise hired a new IT director, who was knowledgeable about information quality concepts, process engineering, and business applications, thus inaugurating the organization’s transition toward an IP perspective. Acting as a de facto IPM, the director began to institute a cross-functional approach to managing information. With support from the CEO, he constructed a work-flow model of the customer account IP process that integrated client services, business operations, and the IT department.
As another example, firms with multiple divisions or locations may assign an IP manager either for each division or location or as part of a central corporate function. Either method works. The choice is dependent upon what best suits the particular organization. Or an organization may assign IP managers for specific information products and then implement common governance procedures ensuring consistency for the use of information across the organization. Some organizations have assigned IP managers for the reference data used within the organization.
One organization assigned both an IT director and a senior business vice president who reported to the CEO to share the function. Together, they oversaw and managed the company’s information suppliers, the in-house information production, and the clients who were consumers of their information products.
IP Manager Responsibilities
The IP manager must incorporate the requirements of the three stakeholders at each stage of the information product life cycle. Each stakeholder group, however, may have more than one constituent. In eliciting the stakeholders’ requirements and integrating these into the information product, the IP manager is responsible for different tasks over the course of the life cycle.
During the introductory stage, the primary task is design and development. During the growth stage, the emphasis is on improving and monitoring the information product. As the information product matures, the main task is maintenance of the information product. Attention to these major tasks over the life cycle is critical. For example, even though a chemical company ensured proper development and production of one of its information products, the materials systems, during the introductory stage, it incurred legal liability problems because the company paid insufficient attention to the maintenance of the material systems after their initial production.
During design and development, the IP manger must concentrate on accurately specifying the consumers’ needs and reconciling those needs with the capabilities of the information creators and information custodians. To assess the current quality of the information products delivered to consumers, the IPM must develop appropriate metrics and feedback processes to measure the quality of the information product.
As part of the monitoring process, the IPM must continually measure the product’s production and use these measures to determine when to modify the product as is done with “mature” physical products which require a product manager to keep them “new and improved.” Information quality assessment tools can provide the mechanisms to measure and monitor the process. Periodic reassessments can determine whether the quality of information is improving – both objectively and subjectively as perceived by information consumers.
Having a set of standards is critically important to the monitoring process. There must be standards that define information along all the quality dimensions important to the information consumer. Furthermore, under the leadership of the IP manager, these standards should be continuously reviewed and improved to ensure that the quality of the information itself is continuously improved. Analysis of variances between the quality of the information products and consumers’ quality expectations provides the basis for improvement.
The IP manager uses knowledge obtained through this monitoring process to initiate changes to the product. Continuous improvement should start as soon as the information product is developed. As analyses reveal gaps, the IP manager should undertake the appropriate improvements. The IP manager also needs to set new quality goals based on the evolving needs of the information consumer. Then it is possible to translate these goals into improvements in both the raw information provided and the information production process.
The IP manager duties are, in essence, process management and coordination. Traditionally, the IT function performs information process management, if it is performed at all. The IT function, however, has seldom viewed information consumers as part of the process it managed, even in IT organizations with a strong consumer focus. The poor quality of organizational information is commonly caused by the lack of coordination and lack of shared knowledge among information creators, custodians and consumers. Thus the role and responsibilities of the IP manager are critical for delivering information products that are “fit for use” by information consumers.