Is Info Quality Management a Recession Proof Profession?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been pondering whether or not Information Quality Management is a recession proof profession. Those of you who know me will probably guess that my recent departure from “big company” employment was one of the seeds to this line of thought. Another was the interesting findings contained in the IAIDQ’s recent report on Salary and Job Satisfaction in the Information/Data Quality profession (you can find a copy of the report here).

First off, the salary survey made for interesting reading because it pegged the average salary (in US dollars) for an Information Quality professional at just over $95000 (EUR 72k approx).  In Europe, the average was $85000 (EUR 65k approx). Cripes, I was a bit less well paid in the old job than I had thought. At those salary levels, the information quality professionals were, overall, satisfied with their lot.

78% of IDQ professionals say they feel either secure or very secure about their current position, indicating remarkable confidence despite the current difficult economic times

So… is this one of those mythical recession proof professions?

Data Data Everywhere….

We’re fond of saying it but it is true. We live in an increasingly “informationalized” world. Strip away most business models now and you will find that the real value is generated by the smooth flow of information around an organisation. Buying a laptop from Dell? That’s an information flow that needs to pass with out glitch to a factory in Poland (alas no longer Ireland) and also out to suppliers in China and elsewhere to ensure that the bits all arrive together so you receive delivery of a laptop to your door. And let’s not forget about the flow of information about your finance arrangement to fund the purchase. Try to get a phone line connected and you are relying on the quality of information that the call centre agent has about what services are available in your area. Buy a coffee on your debit card… The list goes on.

Information and data are increasingly being recognised as critical assets to the organisation. Whether it is in Tom Redman’s “Data Driven”, Tom Fisher’s “The Data Asset” or on blogs or webinars, we see an increasing presentation of data as an asset in terms that C-level executives should get. But this isn’t enough (for reasons we’ll come to in a minute)

But on a more personal level I’ve been busier since I left my old job then I have been at almost any time in my career. I am finding more people connecting with me through the IAIDQ (and other forums) and I am sensing a strong feeling of postive attitude which is far removed from “magical thinking” but is instead grounded on a very clear understanding of how poor quality information contributed to the mess we are in and an equally clear vision of how effective management of the quality of information can help get us out of this situation and, more importantly, help us to better manage the risk of it happening again.

The Problem…

The problem we face now as a profession, and this was highlighted very clearly by the IAIDQ’s study, is that of clearly communicating to our employers, customers, and wider audiences, the value of good quality information. 84% of the IAIDQ’s respondents said that this was their biggest challenge. If we face that challenge in a downturn that caused us to look at the relative importance of the assets in our organisation, how can we hope to overcome that challenge now that greenshoots are breaking out all over?  (As I write this Germany is now out of recession, France is on the way, Eurozone is heading positive)

But Gartner recently shared (well, in 2006) with us this prediction:

Through 2011, 75 percent of organizations will experience significantly reduced revenue growth potential and increased costs due to the failure to introduce data quality assurance and coordinate it with their data integration and metadata management strategies (0.7 probability).

In physics, “friction” is the name given to the opposing force that slows the movement of a body. The problem with friction is that it requires you to expend greater effort to achieve the same result. The laws of Conservation of Energy tell us that that extra energy is lost in the form of heat. (Think about the last time you watched your local scout troop light a fire by rubbing two sticks together. Didn’t they look out of breath when they’d finished?)

More recent Gartner research, published on the 11th of August 2009 [2009 Gartner FEI Technology Study Reveals FinanceManagers’ Perspectives on Data Quality,] finds that:

Three-quarters of the respondents consider data quality problems a constraint on, or a barrier to achieving, business success. Even so, only 41% of their organizations have a formal improvement program — the rest are doing nothing formally to improve matters.

So. There we have it. Confirmation that poor quality information is adding friction to businesses. And only 41% have a formal programme in place to reduce that friction (and even then, a programme does not equate to successful outcomes).

While there are some signs of the global economy recovering, it is clear that poor quality information will add friction to the mix, potentially slowing down the pace of recovery. And the last thing you need when trying to push uphill is friction working against you. Organisations who have to carry the non-value-adding costs of poor quality information will be unable to reap the “first mover” advantages or seize the “low cost operator” niches in the post melt-down market place. Organisations which have invested in reducing the friction will benefit.

In my opinion, there is an opportunity right now for information quality professionals to develop some clear messages about the importance of information quality and its value to your organisation and the wider economy.

  • To compete in a “lean” way , organisations are investing in Business Intelligence. Without regard to the underlying quality of the information being pulled together, this can rapidly descend into “Business UNtelligence”. Issues such as missing or incomplete data, or even the existence of “non-standard” characters like apostrophes in surnames or email addresses can cause problems in your BI reporting.
  • To ensure compliance with current and as yet emerging regulations, organisations will need to pay closer attention to the information flows within their walls and between them and their partners. Closer validation of data, increased focus on internal integrity of facts (e.g. does the salary figure on the loan application align with other credit information available to a lender) will likely become more important. These are all information quality based initiatives.
  • Risk Management – a colleague who specialises in Risk Management consulting shared with me recently that “Can’t rely on our information” is a risk that keeps cropping up again and again in his risk workshops with large businesses. This is borne out by an Information Age survey (referenced in Tom Fisher’s new book) which found that 32% of companies who responded cited Risk Management (compliance and regulatory issues) as a key driver of their Information Quality initiatives.
  • Changes in the quality of information only take place through effective management decisions. Either you decided to invest in managing your information quality effectively, or you effectively decide NOT to manage your information assets.

These are just a few areas where there is friction caused by poor quality information – I welcome suggestions for others.

By removing or reducing the friction, the information quality expert and their team can help businesses seize new ground or at least hold their own as the global economy recovers slowly. By reducing friction, you reduce the amount of wasted energy that is lost in the form of heat.

Conversely, if you are trying to get your information quality programme jumpstarted, one good way is to figure out how to focus all that lost heat in one place to start a small fire under someone.

Just answer the question!

But back to the question at hand… is Information Quality Management a Recession Proof profession?

I think the answer is yes and no.

It is yes in that, insofar as any profession can be recession proof, information quality practitioners and vendors have seemed to weather the storm quite well recently. Furthermore, down turns inevitably focus attention on areas of avoidable cost and waste within organisations. Sensible ones look to remove that cost surgically – a process that in and of itself requires sound information. Ultimately, if a business is trading it is creating and consuming information in order to make or deliver its products. Therefore, even in a down turn there is a role ofr the information quality professional. The relatively high job satisfaction ratings in the IAIDQ’s survey suggest that IQ professionals may have been biding their time in organisations and building their value cases slowly.

However, the answer is no if we think to what might happen once recovery sets in. In the absence of a crisis, how do we present the value case for continued or renewed investment in information quality? In order to ensure success in the good times we as a profession must convince senior management of the value of reducing information friction in our businesses. While it is easy to point at the pile of rubble and say “If we’d had better quality information we could have avoided that”, it is more challenging to show how those same skills, tools and approaches can build a shiny new edifice on the foundations of that rubble.

So, information quality management is recession proof, but only if we continue to define and refine the value proposition for better quality information within our organisations and in the wider global context as well.

5 thoughts on “Is Info Quality Management a Recession Proof Profession?”

  1. Daragh,

    Excellent, thought provoking post. The challenge for us information quality professionals, as it always has been, is to speak the language of the business (i.e. provide bottom line business impact of issues), rather than require business people to speak the language of the Information Quality profession.

    This is seldom easy, since the same information quality issues give rise to different business impacts in different Enterprises, or even in different business units within an Enterprise.

    Rgds Ken

  2. Excellent post Daragh,

    An investment in information quality provides the superlubricity (yes, that’s a real word) the organization needs to greatly reduce the friction caused by poor quality information.

    Perhaps we should call this Daragh’s Law of the Conservation of Information Quality?

    We couldn’t call it O Briens Law because that would violate the Law of the Missing Apostrophes…

    I certainly hope that IQ is a recession proof profession – I am not good at doing anything else.

    Best Regards…


  3. Ken

    You are correct. Putting information quality issues into the language of the business, and pursuing quality for the sake of business benefit not an “academic” ideal of perfection is the key thing. I wrote about this at length back in 2006 in the IAIDQ newsletter (a 4 article series starting with this one, followed by this, this and finally this). The theme forms part of one large section of the report I wrote for Ark Group last year, and is the bones of this presentation I gave in London last year.

    The idea of the “Value Proposition” is originally from Michael Lanning (ex McKinsey) and was introduced to me by Andrew Griffiths of back in 2007 when he served on the IAIDQ Board of Directors (he’s ex McKinsey as well). There is a slide in the presentation about the evolution of Polariod cameras which I think should be thought provoking for Information Quality professionals. It’s based on Lanning’s discussion of how value propositions need to change (but updated to reflect Polaroid’s current direction).

    Jim – Superlubricity… that is now “my word for the week”. And O Brien’s law is OK… it has an apostrophe, just one indicating the possessive case not one suggesting your country was held captive by an invading force for hundreds of years leading to the near destruction of your native language. Not that I’m bitter or anything. 😉

    Note: I forgot to synch up the audio for the presentation and upload it to slideshare… it will be on my list of things to do over the weekend. I promise.

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