It's Time For A Data Quality Sit-Down - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management
Commentary
11/13/2004
03:32 PM
Ted Kemp
Ted Kemp
Commentary
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It's Time For A Data Quality Sit-Down

It's up to CIOs to make other members of senior management understand the importance of data quality. It won't be easy, but being the "chief" of anything usually isn't.

Bad data isn't IT's fault, at least not most of the time. But it's going fall on IT to impress the importance of data quality onto senior managers' minds if the problem of bad data is going to be resolved. Specifically, it's up to CIOs.

The latest word from PricewaterhouseCoopers' Global Data Management Survey, which polled nearly 500 enterprises in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, is that most organizations still see data quality as an IT issue, not one that involves the executive suite. These organizations are, of course, dead wrong.

There was a time when non-IT executives would have had a pretty good excuse for thinking in such a wrong-headed fashion: They didn't really grasp the full importance of data in the first place. They did not, therefore, concern themselves with ensuring its quality. What's most staggering about the findings from PricewaterhouseCoopers is that, even now, with a full course of new data-related regulations on the table, most organizations still don't get it.

IT manages data, keeps it safe, analyzes it and sometimes reports on it. IT staff does not, however, input all the data that fills their databases and data warehouses. More often, data is identified, accumulated and input into various systems by non-IT staff such as field sales people. Other times, it's shipped in from third parties such as data aggregators or trading partners. Enforcing the input of clean, reliable and properly formatted data is beyond the jurisdiction of IT. Such work is for the people who direct operations from the top.

The rub for IT, of course, is that as long as upper management fails to recognize that data quality is usually process-related, it will continue to hold IT staff accountable for the problems that result from unreliable data.

That said, even if data quality problems aren't usually IT's fault, IT is the group in most organizations that best understands the data quality issue as a whole. That means, unfortunately, that IT is the best candidate for educating management about data quality. IT can't ensure data quality on its own. But IT has to explain the problem to someone who can.

Specifically, the job of proselytizing to upper management about data quality falls to the people who lead IT -- CIOs and the like. CIOs have a "C" in their title for a reason: They're chiefs. They're upper management. They don't just fix organizations' computers, they help steer organizations. They need to take the initiative when it comes to overcoming the data quality challenge -- calling some shots, pulling together some meetings, spreading the word about data quality.

It's time for a sit-down. CIOs need to clearly outline the problem for their colleagues in the executive boardroom. That means investigating the issue and gaining an understanding of their organizations' data-gathering processes. It also means communicating the ramifications of data quality to other executives in terms they understand: dollars. This won't be easy. But being a chief usually isn't.

Making data quality a business-wide priority is a job that falls squarely onto the shoulders of the CIO, or whoever else heads IT. If not theirs, then whose?

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