Conflict of Expectations

A few weeks back, I was at dinner with Larry English and some people from a large consulting firm. It was a social occasion and as the food and informality took hold, the discussion turned to the pillars of the Total Information Quality Management methodology and ethical/moral concerns.

Mr English draws heavily on Deming and the TQM gurus in his view of quality – quality is defined as meeting or execeeding customer expectations and the most important person in the ‘production line’ is the customer. The challenge to this was what would one do if your customer wanted something illegal or immoral to meet their expectation or if, in order to meet or exceed their expectation, you had to do something illegal or immoral.

My response to this argument was to point out that the expectation of society as to the acceptable standards of conduct are expressed in law, both statute and judicial. Just because a product or service meets or exceeds the expectations of a targetted customer it does not mean that it can be produced if the laws of society would preclude it. A good example of this is the location tracking tools that were being deployed by a Dublin security company. The prompt action of Digital Rights Ireland in alerting the Data Protection Commissioner resulted in the expectation of society of privacy (albeit curtailed somewhat for children) was asserted and the product had to be withdrawn.

Where individuals or organisations choose to offer services that are illegal or immoral, and where those services are their business, then it can be argued that their obligation to their customer is the same as a business operating within the law. If a drug dealer (for example) provides low quality product then they will not survive long. Either in business or life.

The choice is whether to operate within the law or not, not whether you need to produce a quality product that meets or exceeds your customer expectations. If you choose to operate within the law, then the legal process will operate (albeit at times slowly) to assert the expectation of Society as a customer. If you choose to act outside the law, producing or selling a product that is illegal, then your obligation to your chosen customer remains the same.


Electoral Information Quality – A Consolidating post

As the blog is getting legs a bit now, I thought it best to consolidate the posts of the last few weeks on the Electoral Register issues into one point of reference, particularly for readers new to the site.

I am also taken the opportunity to upload a few additional articles etc. that I have written on the issue to the blog for reference.


First up is a draft paper I have put together on the proposed solutions and why they are likely to be inadequate. 

Next up is a link to an article I have had published in an International newsletter for Information Quality Management Professionals.

Finally there is an article based on my post on what scrap and rework is of earlier this month. This article was submitted to national newspapers as an opinion piece – and I should acknowledge the assistance of Simon over on Tuppenceworth with whipping it into shape. Click here to download Scrap and Rework article. The article is also reproduced as an appendix in the previously mentioned report.

As regards posts – pretty much any of the posts in the Information Quality/Electoral Data Quality category are relevant. I will double check all the post categorisations to make sure that nothing is missing.

That’s my update for today.



Amazon-inania update

I used the contact form on the Dept of Enterprise site last night to alert them to the Amazon-inania…

 Here is their response… which includes the email and name of the Private Secretary to the Minister, which I’ve cut out for sake of privacy. If anyone wants them, comment and request (I will not post this information publicly at this time). I’ll ignore the fact that they spelled my name wrong even though all they had to do was cut and paste it.

Dear Darragh

Your correspondence has been forwarded to [name witheld by webmaster], Private Secretary to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheál Martin, T.D. and she will reply directly to you in due course.

The Private Secretary can be contacted by email at [email address removed by webmaster to avoid spammers – available on request] 

If you require further information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


[A Civil Servant – name excised for privacy]

Information Resource Unit

Aonad Acmhainní Faisnéise

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Ireland An Roinn Fiontar, Trádála, agus Fostaíochta, Sráid Chill Dara, Baile Átha Cliath 2, Éire

T: + 353 1 631 2100; LoCall: 1890 220 222

F: + 353 1 631 2827;

Not sure if this will actually amount to anything, but some follow up contacts via the dept of enterprise website might get someone’s attention….









Tuppenceworth directed me to a worrying bit of news – Amazon have gone totally insane.

Having read the posts and comments over at Michele’s blog, I had to get my writing fingers out.

Let’s start with the issues in the order they come to me:

  1. The point was made that if you contacted a baker and asked for their cheap bread, they would be entitled to decline your offer of slang-bread for eating-bread on the grounds that they couldn’t reasonably meet your request without additional costs. Amazon don’t make bread. Amazon is an incredible logistics machine with a proven capability to get packages from Dusseldorf to Dublin – as long as you are willing to pay the shipping costs.
  2. There is a quasi-Irish Amazon site – it’s called and it is run in association with Amazon. Prices are in euro and are quoted at Irish VAT rates. It is very nice. I have used it a lot. (Michele Neylon has informed me that this is an Amazon Associates site – thanks for the clarification.) This is what happened today when I tried to buy from an ostensibly IRISH website. Apparently Ireland is ‘International’ on an Irish site… I wonder if Dermot Ahern knows we’re not in the EU anymore? I wonder how the owners of feel about their business being impacted by Amazon’s unilateral decision?
  3. Somewhat ironically (as anyone who has read the comment over on Michele’s site) Amazon’s customer service centre is not in the UK but…. in Ireland (Cork), as is their Systems, Networks and Operating Centre (Dublin). So our transactions are being captured (technically speaking) within the jurisdiction of the Irish Republic. But as we don’t live in the Irish Republic anymore we are “International”….
  4. Companies may try to segment their regional markets for a variety of reasons: operational reporting, segmented pricing (ie different prices in different countries). However if they attempt to enforce those prices when a citizen of the EU ‘shops around’ and puts a retailer in a role of ‘passive-seller’ then any attempt to prevent that Retailer from selling to that consumer is an illegal act – either under Free Movement of goods or Competition Law (abuse of a dominant position in Market A to protect/grow Market B).
  5. Warranty issues may be a valid argument – but most of the appliances I’ve bought in recently have either come with warranty information for EVERY EU country or just for the UK (because we speak English and they used to live here we must be English apparently). Therefore, the warranty issue is not as strong an arguement. Also, Caveat Emptor is a defence available to the manufacturer – the buyer would take on the risk of not being covered by a warranty – no reason not to sell it.

So it looks like we are no longer in the EU because Amazon has decided so. I can see how that might be the case, what with the CIA allegedly using Shannon as a carpark and Airforce 1 and Airforce 2 stopping off for Duty Free every few months. Combine that with a national development plan that has put the car (single occupant preferred) at the centre of transport planning and I’d be forgiven for thinking we were the 52nd State of the US.

It is either that or Amazon has just bungled into a whopping Information Quality problem. (Well, we do sit between Iran and Iraq at the UN, we’re obviously Middle Eastern).

Given the impact this has on Irish Consumers, and given that Amazon’s Customer Service call centre is based in Cork, I would suggest letting Eddie Hobbs know…. he can drive down and ask them why they are letting us get ripped off!

Process Design & Quality

Quality is defined as the ability of a product or piece of information to meet or exceed the expectations of its customers/consumers.

Quality begins in the design stage, at the white board when you are figuring out how your process should work. I won’t waste my energy today rattling on about our Electoral Register issues, rather I’ll take a different example…

This is an example of poor quality information. The instructions presented to the customer are illogical and set up a logical recursion that would stump many a Dalek.

Reminds me of the joke about the computer programmer who was found dead in the shower. The shampoo bottle instructions read “Wash, Rinse, Repeat”.


The Irish Times Editorial yesterday…

The Irish Times ran a nice editorial piece yesterday (2006/05/11) on the Electoral Register that highlighted the administrative failure that surrounds the Electoral Register.

One good line: “IF the potential for abouse exists within the voting system – and it unequivocally does – the Government’s responsibility is to protect democracy and correct the electoral register

The Old Lady of D’Olier Street correctly identifies that there is a “reluctance at official and political level to step outside traditional mechanisms to address the situation”.

The reported ruling out by Dick Roche of the use of personal identification at polling stations reflects this apparent lack of willing to change processes to improve the quality of the register and improve the controls on the Electoral process. As the Irish Times rightly points out, you have to produce evidence of address to get a parking permit from Local Authorities. I can’t join a library in Dublin because I don’t have a utility bill at an address in Dublin.

The chronic lack of leadership on this issue is appalling. Here’s a link to a piece I’ve written in an International Journal for Information Quality people… it references some reseach that was done in 2004 into attitudes to Information Quality in UK Public Sector organisations…

… in the mean time as the Irish Times haven’t responded to the opinion piece I sent them based on my chocolate cake/scrap & rework post I suppose I’ll have to tout it around the other papers… I’ll stick up the draft for reference here later today.

Link to my comments on tuppenceworth..

Those nice punters concerned citizens over at Tuppenceworth have taken up cudgels in defence of democracy and quoted from my post explaining scrap and rework to explain to their readers why they should prepare for a feeling of dé ja et ré ja vú… (french for “I’ve been here before, and I’ll be here again”).

Here’s the link to them and here’s a trackback link to my comment to them re: ICT Expo…

I was disappointed… but given the number of Healthcare, Dept of Social Welfare and HSE people who came along I would be less worried about going to hospital and claiming for the sick days off the social than I would be about whether my vote would actually be counted in the midst of “vote-spamming” (a term I will now coin to describe the use of fictitous votes or the ‘stacking’ of the register to influence the outcome of an election)…


ICT Expo


I’m just winding down from the last few days of excitement around the ICT Expo Information Quality Master Class. Larry English was over to do a Master Class on Information Quality. It went very well, and I think Larry enjoyed his visit to Dublin.

Everyone seemed to get a lot out of what was a very intense day- not least me. It is a pity that none of our politicians came along – but there were representatives from our Hospitals, the HSE, financial services and telecomms.

Larry’s take on our electoral register issues was interesting, especially given the work that he has done with the Carter Foundation for Electoral Reform in the US. The use of Census Enumerators is just scrap and rework. It will establish a cleansed register at a point in time but unless the processes and root causes are addressed the register will degrade again from that point forward.

I refer readers to my previous posts on that topic….

By the way… 16 days left to the expiration of Census Enumerator contracts (and counting).

Things you shouldn’t do

Folks, amongst the things you shouldn’t do is mess around with your blog theme on a borrowed laptop at 01:00 in the morning when you should be sleeping. It causes you to make a booboo and a have to revert to a different template that doesn’t look as good.

Nut bunnies.


Update at 2006/05/11: I have tinkered around with a few templates and this one is my favourite so far, so i think I’ll be sticking with it….