Published in TDAN.com January 2001
In an increasingly competitive global economy, companies must be in the business of being informed. Those that know the most about their customers, products, vendors, and locations will be able to
formulate the most successful strategies and tactics – for a jump-start in winning. This information has a significant impact on the bottom line in both revenue-generating and cost
Data quality is a prerequisite for being fully informed. Only accurate, complete data about customers, products, vendors, and locations – and their relationships with each
other – will yield the enterprise intelligence needed to win. Yet, in today’s business world data moves constantly among diverse systems – increasing data and system
complexity, which can lead to degradation in data and system quality. As a result, achieving and sustaining high data quality is a challenge.
That’s why the time has come for enterprise data quality management (EDQM). Why EDQM is now necessary to achieve successful business results, and how it is possible, become more apparent if
we address the following questions:
- Why has the need for EDQM evolved?
- Why is EDQM important?
- What does EDQM involve?
Why Has the Need for Enterprise Data Quality Management Evolved?
Two mutually reinforcing trends – a technological revolution and a business evolution — have put a premium on high-quality information as the key to success. The global infrastructure has
been transformed: by fax machines, PCs, laptops, sophisticated networking, and the Internet and all the hand-held devices that link to it. The result is clear: as the new communications bridges and
highways expand, the volume of information increases.
In response to this new infrastructure and other technological advances, business theory and practice have also been evolving. In the past, corporations valued three assets: their personnel,
products, and customer set. Now, they are realizing that they have a fourth asset, their information – on customers, vendors, distributors, products, inventory, and locations. This
information is now a necessity rather than a luxury.
Where will companies find this information? They have it – in thousands, even millions, of records stored in legacy systems – with new data coming in daily. But they need to clean and
match data components from diverse records to get more extended information. This is the valuable information for formulating strategies and tactics and producing business benefits that they hope
to get from the business intelligence systems they’ve invested in. But for optimal results from these systems, they need to be loaded with high-quality data.
Why Is EDQM Important?
What level of data quality is needed to leverage corporate information, and how and where does data quality have an impact on business? Examining these topics reveals why data quality is an
enterprise-wide concern, demanding to be managed.
A Closer Look at Data Quality
Data quality is the level of accuracy, consistency of format and data representation, and completeness that permits matching and integration of all records that pertain to an entity, such as a
customer or patient, a product, or a location. Specifically, it requires domain integrity –ensuring each data value is in a discrete, appropriate domain or field so that it is easily
accessible to users and query tools – and data consistency — conditioning and standardizing data, so that it has a common structure.
Once there is a common data structure, you can match records from diverse systems accurately and extensively. Matching, in turn, enables you to link all information relevant to a specific entity.
Achieving the highest data quality also includes finding non-exact matches – like John Doe and J.Q. Doe — so you can, indeed, consolidate all relevant information about this entity and
eliminate duplicates or redundancy in the database.
This level of data quality – accurate, consistent, non-redundant data with a complete view of all relationships to other data sets — is required for leveraging enterprise information for
success. This is clear if we look at its impact.
The Impact of Data Quality on Revenue Generation and Cost Administration
Within a company, two kinds of activities impact the bottom line: revenue generating initiatives and cost-administering initiatives. Data quality is critical to the success of each.
For example, data quality is essential for CRM and other revenue-generating systems to deliver their expected ROI. If you don’t know all the relationships that particular customers have with
your products, your marketing profiling and segmentation will be flawed, and your marketing campaigns will fall short of their potential. Consider this: John Doe has purchased three products. But
in the three line-of-business systems containing his records, he is listed as John, Jon, and J.Q., and his Social Security number contains transposed digits in one system. These inconsistencies and
errors – or a lack of data quality — could prevent matching of these records.
Why is matching so important? If you think you have three customers, each with one product, rather than one premium customer owning three products, you may miss the opportunity to offer special
deals to strengthen his loyalty and add revenues. What happens if you make these kinds of errors with ten percent of your customers? Missed sales and even lost customers.
Data quality has a similar impact on administering costs, for example, in purchasing. Cost savings here can have a major impact on managing the corporate budget and containing overall costs to
ensure maximum profitability.
For example, if you have accurate, standardized descriptions for inventory items, you can match information from different locations and their systems – to discover costly and inefficient
inventory duplicates (listed in different systems under different product numbers) and save money by reducing inventory. Similarly, if you have accurate, standardized vendor information across
locations, may see that some “different” vendors that various locations buy from are actually divisions of the same company. So you can negotiate a better price.
Challenges to Achieving and Sustaining Data Quality
These examples show the pervasive need for data quality. So what’s the problem? Typically, companies have a subset of applications critical to running the business: customer sales order entry
systems, financial systems, product information systems, manufacturing or production systems. Data from these applications moves constantly.
Information enters the enterprise through varied systems and portals. While you can train clerks to adhere to a standard data entry format, information entering through Web forms and extranets is
subject to the user’s choices. That means your clean, standardized internal system environment is under threat of degradation from impurities such as missing data, the “wrong” or
“extra” data in a field, and misspelling and typos; from non-standard data representation; and from duplicates.
Data also moves within the corporation, especially as companies extract data from their transaction applications and route it in real-time to portals specific to functions and users’ roles.
But different systems and users require different data. So there’s a need for a re-engineering process – to enable the transaction data to be integrated with data in these enterprise
systems and in decision support.
Add all this together and what do you have? Enterprise information portals, “life blood” enterprise application systems, decision support databases, extranets interacting with internal
systems, and Web sites. All these systems need data and information that conforms to enterprise standards and demonstrates the comprehensive relationships critical to optimizing business
operations. The point is clear: it’s time for enterprise data quality management.
What Does EDQM Involve?
Enterprise data quality management (EDQM) is not a one-time, short-term fix. In the current, dynamic business environment, everything – procedures, products, relationships, the organization
itself – changes on a short timetable. To remain competitive in the future will require quick reassessment and adjustment of information systems to support these changes.
As a result, to lay the ground for EDQM requires taking a top-level view: examining the entire enterprise to understand what information systems and pools are critical, how information flows
through them to support business functions, and, consequently, where the enterprise needs to implement data quality procedures to ensure optimal quality information. Once a company has this
understanding, EDQM is a three-phase process.
I: Loading systems with high-quality data. You need tools that enable you to re-engineer legacy data before loading it into new business intelligence systems – as quickly
as possible, in Internet time. In addition, at points of uncontrolled data entry like the Web, you need real-time data quality filters to correct data, condition it to corporate standards, and
match it to internal information. Finally, at points where transaction information is integrated into other systems, you also need filters – to standardize data for the receiving systems and
perform matching in order to link the new data with the appropriate entities in the existing databases.
II: Maintaining the highest level of data quality in information systems. This phase has two important components. First, you need to create and empower an internal
information quality group to maintain the quality of corporate data. Second, systems integrators need to come up with ways to perform regular data quality audits on critical information systems and
In fact, auditing and enriching the information in systems can greatly enhance their function. With regular data quality audits, companies will be able to accurately price mergers and acquisitions
and accurately forecast revenue potential — based on a true count of customers (in each organization and the combined organizations) and inventories of all customer-product relationships.
Enriching information adds value, too. If field support systems have optimal data quality and have their address data integrated with spatial information such as latitude and longitude, you can
plan more efficient service routes, to cut service delivery costs.
III: Information development – or proactively modifying and constructing information systems to parallel the planning and implementation of new strategies. A top
executive, such as the CIO, needs to be looking at the impact of future business changes on information needs and quality – to proactively plan and rollout out systems to support new
For example, if a retail and a commercial bank merge, there will be new strategies and a new, hybrid set of products. So certain information systems will have to be merged, modified, and
consolidated. To hit the ground running with the new plan and products would require consistency in and matching of data across the merged enterprise — to optimally leverage resources for
cross-selling all products to all customers and get the quickest ROI.
In short, loading, maintaining, and planning for high-quality data — that’s what EDQM is all about. Right now, we’re just scratching the surface. However, the tools to re-engineer data
and ensure data quality are available today. All that is needed is commitment to do the top-level thinking about the enterprise’s data quality needs. Then, the practical EDQM implementation
will follow: the information quality group, the regular audits, the proactive planning for quality in future systems to support the strategic direction. The time to begin is now — to meet the
future of instant, ubiquitous information access prepared for success.