Buzzword Bingo (or “It’s the info quality stupid”)

One of my fellow Information Quality practitioner-bloggers wrote recently about the emergence of what he labelled “DQ2.0”. You can read Henrik’s original post here.

While I don’t disagree with many of the points and questions raised by Henrik, I do have  a problem with the use of a label like “DQ2.0” to describe what is ultimately the maturing of a profession and the evolution of an industry.

My issues with the label are based on commercial grounds (I’m looking to develop a business providing consulting services in the Information Quality space), personal grounds (there are things that just feel ‘hinky’ to me), and from my perspective as a Director of the only Professional Association specifically serving Information Quality professionals.

Commercial Objections – making the tricky sell even trickier

While it is tempting to apply labels that align with the latest buzzwords to help grease the wheels of conversation, I have suggest that buzzword phrases inevitably fall into the trap of either being hijacked by vendors (“Our tool is DQ2.0”) or dismissed as yet another fad.

In my planned business venture I’m targeting SME and upwards for information quality services. Conversations I’ve had to date with some of my target market, and my experience working on IQ projects in a large corporate in my pre-redundancy days,  has been that many business managers or owner-managers don’t quite get the Information Quality thing. A key challenge is to explain why the advice of their accountant or bank manager or an IT consultant about these things may not be the most informed. Adding another layer of lingo, in my commercial view, might only add further to the confusion (“OK… I understand this DQ thing… but I’ve read about this DQ2.0. Can your company sell me that?“).

Ultimately, within the “DQ2.0” concept we aren’t presenting anything particularly new. The ability to access more authorative reference data sets to help validate and improve quality is not a change, it is just reducing the barriers to adoption and (hopefully) reducing the costs of implementing effective quality processes for information. The increasing adoption of SOA is simply serving to make many of the historically invisible issues of poor data definition and sloppy process design unavoidably visible in businesses.

Ultimately, these things are just making it easier to develop the case for getting the quality of information managed effectively.

My personal gut feel

From a personal perspective, I actually think that putting a version number on Data Quality runs the risk of further compounding the “That’s an IT problem” problem.

Add to that the on-going debate within the profession about whether the correct labelling is “Information Quality” or “Data Quality” or “Information/Data Quality” or “Derek”, and sticking a version number on the end seems, in my view, to be just a bad idea that invites further confusion.

After all, we are not talking about a massive paradigm shift in the fundamental thinking of how information quality can be managed or improved. The growth in available reference data sets, often with government approval, is simply an evolution of the market. The increasing awareness of the importance of Information Quality to SOA environments is, again, a maturing of the profession (and perhaps a result of business and IT people actually communicating for once). The increasing awareness of the information quality problems caused by cultural biases in data modelling or process design is perhaps just a by product of me ranting about companies demanding my postcode when my country doesn’t have one (oh, and Graham Rhind may have had an influence too).

Web2.0 represented a significant shift in the way the interet worked and was interacted with by citizens of the web. However, I don’t see Tim O’Reilly proclaiming a new Web2.x each time a new CMS tool emerges or microblogging platform springs to life or plugin is released for WordPress.

But using reference data, understanding the impact of technology platforms on information quality (and vice versa) and avoiding biases in design that undermine the quality of information  are not new things or a significant paradigm shift in the Information Quality world. They are some of the fundamental principles and activities that need to be included in any Information Quality project.

Developing an Information Quality offering for smaller businesses is simply a natural evolution of the profession and a broadening of the market into which professionals seek to offer their services, particularly as there are likely to be a growing number of “hired gun” information quality professionals who have cut their teeth in larger corporates and who will need to work with smaller organisations to develop sustainable businesses. This is not “DQ2.0”, this is simply an evolution of the profession as we reach a critical mass of practitioners who wear the label “Information Quality Professional”.

From my IAIDQ perspective

I need to be careful when writing this bit that my words aren’t read as being the definitive IAIDQ position here. This is not an IAIDQ website, it is my personal blog. However, as someone who has been working for the past few years to develop an Association of professionals in the IDQ/IQ/DQ discipline, that role affects my reaction to the “DQ2.0” phrase.

The fact that we are talking about DQ2.0 indicates that the profession is maturing and we are slowly and steadily creeping into the “mainstream” of thinking. Graham Rhind is correct to point out in his reponse to Henrik’s post that there are different levels of maturity out there. However, this is true of all professions and represents an opportunity for those of us (practitioners, consultants, and professional organisations) to help the less mature climb the ladder.

However, applying the label “DQ2.0” may not serve the profession or those who we as practitioners seek to help as it creates yet another potential silo and sub-division in the mindspace of people. As already discussed, many of the illustrations Henrik raises in support of a “DQ2.0” are simply elements of a level of information quality maturity, not a new “fork” of the profession or skillsets.

However, labelling these issues as a “new” 2.0 version of Information Quality does a disservice to range of knowledge areas required to be an effective Information/Data Quality professional. And ultimately, it distracts from the fundamental issue which is the things that need to be done to improve and ensure the quality of data and information.

It’s the stupid information quality (or words to that effect)

You can reparse the heading of this section to get either a paraphrasing of Bill Clinton’s famous quote on the US economy or one of the common reasons for 84% of all ERP implementations failing to meet their objectives.

And this is what it is all about… not whether we are dealing with 0.1 of Data Quality or DQ2.0.

Yes, use version numbers as milestone markers in an internal programme of work to evolve your organisation up the maturity ladder towards smoothly running Information Quality. But please don’t label the discipline in this way.

My late grandfather was, amongst other things, a master carpenter and master plasterer. When he started his trades his tools were all hand powered. He did not think of his trade as “carpentry 2.0” the day he bought an electric drill. The fundamental principles of carpentry remained the same. When the trade moved from lat-and-horsehair plastering to gypsum drywall plasterboards, it didn’t change the profession to “Plastering 2.0”.

The tools and new materials just meant he could do things a little faster, and perhaps a little cheaper. As a jobbing plasterer he also did work for big projects and smaller clients. Having good tools helped him meet their needs faster, but having proven skills and experience in the fundamentals of his trade meant he did a good job for those clients.

Let’s not play buzzword bingo with the profession. Let’s focus on the fundamentals needed to do a good job and improve the quality of information for all information consumers.

8 thoughts on “Buzzword Bingo (or “It’s the info quality stupid”)”

    1. Henrik

      I agree… you didn’t strike the match, but you seem to have fanned the flames alright. My concern is that as a profession we need to be careful what fires we fan and feed and which ones we let smoulder out on their own.

      Vincent McBurney’s post seems to imply DQ2.0 is about companies using Web2.0 branding and marketing strategies to make the uninteresting interesting. That’s something I’m in favour of… far too often the subject matter we deal with (for example patient lives in a healthcare scenario) is too serious to joke about but that is only made worse when the vendor arrives without cracking a smile. Using Web2.0 tools, techniques and approaches to (as Andrew Brooks puts it “Make the invisible visible”) is a powerful approach that I definitely encourage- but it is just a new and different way of getting the word out about the problems and solutions and keeping a spotlight on your projects.

      The danger is that we might find the phrase being used without any clear context as to what it actually means (as in the post you link to). Soundbites like “Today it is Data Quality 2.0” don’t add anything to the discussion about what companies should be doing. Particularly if when you scratch the surface you find that the understanding the speaker has of Data Quality 1.0 is simply data cleansing and scrap and rework… which isn’t actually Information Quality Management at all (it is part of it).

      The Ventana Research post you link to in your comment would seem to imply that “Data Quality 2.0” is just data quality that people give a damn about and are taking seriously. Lovely. So Data Quality 2.0 is just, well, data quality. (And to understand recursion we must first understand recursion).

      Cognitive Data might use the term “Data Quality 2.0” with regard to their product and its capability, but their product is just that – yet another product that can be embedded in processes to address (no pun intended) one identified root cause of common information quality problems in address data. Congratulations to them for being innovative (but I’d love to see if their product can handle Irish addresses and Irish address management issues). As for their use of “Data Quality 2.0”, I suspect this is more marketing spin than real meat – just as the ownership of a power drill didn’t change my Grandfather’s need to understand how to do carpentry, I doubt if the acquisition of any tool can actually help people truly solve their information quality problems without understanding what information quality actually is.

      If we argue (for the sake of argument) that “Data Quality 2.0” is the application of Web2.0 tools and techniques and Open Source development approaches to managing and improving the quality of information in our organisations then the label might have some value. However, that just means “Using today’s tools to solve tomorrow’s problems” and doesn’t get away from the fact that those approaches are still fundamentally grounded in core principles of quality management. If you establish a community resource in your organisation where any staff member can suggest or submit a solution to an information quality problem you might be using an Open Source approach, but you are in reality breaking down barriers and putting everyone to work on the transformation.

      W.Edwards Deming would be very proud of you in that case. 😉

    1. Henrik

      I do hope you don’t take any personal offence at my rant against “Data Quality 2.0”. Perhaps I have too much time on my hands here in my little home office and have been stuck too long trying to define what information quality is for my business plan. Perhaps I should take a walk to clear my head a bit 😉

      You have rightly pointed out that the phrase is out there and in use. I just question whether the phrase actually means anything and whether as a profession we should be encouraging the phrase or instead making efforts to show what information quality/data quality is actually about and ensuring that we link new approaches and techniques to the heritage of sound practices that underpin the work we do.

      Perhaps if someone could show me what Data Quality 0.0 and Data Quality 1.0 looked like, and importantly demonstrate what the actual paradigm change is at each evolution, we could put the debate to rest.

  1. He, he … just finished evening dinner with my wife. As usual she asked how my day went, did anything unusual happen? Only not boring subject I could tell was about a blog war with an Irish ill tempered DQ addict. But frankly, I couldn’t explain the subject.

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    1. OK… the debate moves on. I would question whether I “slammed” anyone in the discussion about Data Quality 2.0 as a term. I had tried to “play the ball and not the man” as they say in soccer circles. If I crossed any line I apologise.

      To be clear… my argument is simply that there is enough of a challenge in the information quality profession getting people to understand the fundamental issues, challenges, and benefits of sound quality management principles applied to information without introducing a potential distraction that the profession simply does not need.

      If “Information Quality 2.0” has some significant paradigm change in terms of approach, fundamentals or underlying technology then I might be persuaded that there is some merit in the label. However… if the label just means that people are starting to “get” the value proposition I remain to be convinced that there is a merit in adding yet more labels and buzzwords in to a cluttered mind-space (particularly when organisations are faced with a wide range of apparently competing challenges such as cost reduction, data protection, compliance, information quality etc.)

      If I start going to the gym and following recommended practices in terms of my diet and exercise is that “Fitness 2.0”?

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