Most organizations have more
data than they know what do to with. However, the fact that
an organization is full of information doesn’t mean
that its business will run smoothly. Many experts contend
that organizations will only achieve high-quality processes
when their information is organized and shared throughout
Larry English, president of Information Impact International
Inc., is a speaker, educator, author and consultant in knowledge
management and information quality improvement. English
has developed the Total Information Quality Management methodology,
applying kaizen quality principles to information quality.
English has served as an adjunct associate professor in
computer science. He’s a member of the American Society
for Quality and a former advisor for the Data Management
Association. An active member of various standards committees
within the American National Standards Institute, he is
an editorial advisor and monthly columnist for DM Review
magazine. English is also the author of Improving Data Warehouse
and Business Information Quality (John Wiley & Sons,
QD: What is information quality?
meeting end-customers’ and internal knowledge workers’
expectations. It’s the application of sound quality
management principles to the information processes, which
encompass all of an organization’s processes. It relates
to application software as a component of business processes
that captures information, updates information, moves information
and presents it back to those who require it.
QD: What is the state of information
is the only area of business where redundancy is not just
tolerated but encouraged. The fact that we build 25 separate
customer files would be like hiring one person 25 times.
But we don’t think anything about building redundant
files, even though it’s technically feasible to simply
share the data. Businesses must manage information as they
manage other assets. It’s simply too expensive not
QD: Can you explain Total Information
TIQM draws from
total quality management to focus on the information processes,
from manufacturing to marketing to business transactions,
such as sales and claims processing. Companies adopt TIQM
to improve their processes, and to prevent the recurrence
of the data defects that cause business process failure
and create scrap and rework.
QD: How does process management
affect information quality?
The way that we’re
managing businesses today is vertical. It’s a leftover
vestige of the industrial age, which is specialization of
labor. In the industrial age, the activities were divided
into small sets that one individual could perform repetitively
QD: So more companies should
take a horizontal approach to information?
already taking place in leading-edge organizations, and
it’s a requirement to be fully effective and efficient
in both software development and database design. When organizations
develop isolated applications with department-focused databases,
they share information by extracting data from one database
and propagating it into another. Extracting, transforming
and propagating data represents wasted time.
QD: What contributes to the
breakdown of a value chain?
a narrow, vertical look at each activity such as order placement
or shipping, and we design systems that just capture data
for one function. Downstream areas, like marketing, are
left out of the data requirements. In these cases, software
is developed from the perspective of only the immediate
department, without recognizing and understanding the expectations
from downstream knowledge workers in other departments.
So, one of the challenges is recognizing the customer set
for a given application. The information requirements for
downstream knowledge workers need to be factored into the
data requirements for an application.
A sound business process anticipates other stakeholders’
information requirements. I call it valuecentric information
systems engineering. You still define the functionality
based on your immediate set of activities, but the information
must be captured to meet downstream beneficiaries’
needs. Often, organizations instead simply add requirements
to the data that already exists.
QD: What should companies keep
in mind when organizing their information?
They need to take
a customer focus that includes not just the immediate beneficiaries
of the software system but also downstream information consumers.
The shared database needs to include all department requirements.
I’m an advocate of quality function deployment in
software development, which means customers don’t
end their obligation when they define their requirements.
We need to listen to the customers and involve them in the
design of the software.
We need to utilize prototyping techniques with minimal
expense so we can test the designs without waiting until
the end of development to test the system. We should test
our design by giving the application to the people who use
it and verify that it’s efficient and meets their
needs. By involving actual businesspeople in the development,
we can identify defects earlier in the process.
QD: What benefits might a company
see by streamlining its databases?
Let me give you
an example. A small coal company in Canada bought software
packages because it was cheaper than developing software.
However, they discovered that buying a lot of software that
didn’t integrate was expensive. And, because no package
met all of their needs, they had to modify the software
they bought. With each new software release, they had to
reincorporate their requirements.
Furthermore, because there was overlap in the data, they
had to build interface programs to extract data from one
database and translate it into another. That created complexity
in keeping the data in-sync.
They scrapped that philosophy and started developing their
own software and databases. They moved to a subject-focused
view of designing data so customer and product information
were in shared databases. The cost of developing software
was less expensive because they didn’t have to keep
redeveloping their custom code and maintaining data interfaces.
It’s very much like the assembly line. If a component
comes in that doesn’t fit, you have to rework it.
That’s the goal of information quality management--to
eliminate scrap, rework and the waste of information.
This interview was conducted by Kennedy Smith, Quality
Digest’s associate editor. Letters to the editor regarding
this article can be sent to email@example.com.