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Treating Data as a Product

A key principle to start and sustain any successful business process is to “treat data and information as a product.”

There are many issues related to information quality and information management practices that affect information quality in organizations.  Every organization should understand what constitutes good information quality should strive to improve their information quality.  There are root causes leading to poor information quality and practices that have been implemented in organizations around the world that can deliver improved information quality.

The key principle necessary to start and sustain any successful program or business process dedicated to improving information quality is “To treat information as if it were a product.”  This means 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 usually is 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.

There are four roles that are part of the information manufacturing process.  These are the information collector, the information custodian, and the information consumer (at MIT we referred to them as the 3 C’s) and the information product manager.

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.

It is necessary to develop an environment within an organization that treats information as a product if it is going to sustain continual and effective 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.

Conclusion

It is always important to start with the end in mind – citing a principle from Stephen Covey.  It is no different in Information Quality.  Remember, in every process, treat data and information as a product to ensure high data and information quality as a result.

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Richard Y. Wang, Ph.D.

Richard Y. Wang is Director of the MIT Chief Data Officer and Information Quality (CDOIQ) Program. He is a pioneer and leader in the research and practice into the role of Chief Data Officer (CDO). Dr. Wang has significant credentials across government, industry, and academia, focused on data and information quality. Dr. Wang was a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management; he was appointed as a Visiting University Professor of Information Quality for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He is an Honorary Professor at Xi’An Jiao Tong University, China.
Wang has written several books on data / information quality and has published numerous professional and research articles on this topic. He received a Ph.D. in Information Technology from the MIT Sloan School of Management and is the recipient of the 2005 DAMA International Achievement Award.

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