Tuesday, December 9, 2008

2009 MIT Information Quality Industry Symposium

This time of year, we’re all looking at our budgets and planning for 2009. I’d like to recommend an event that I’ve been participating in for the past several years – the MIT IQ symposium. It’s in my travel budget and I’m looking forward to going to this event again this year.

The symposium is a July event in Boston that is a discussion and exchange of ideas about data quality between practitioners and academicians. The goal is less commercial than you would find at a typical symposium. In the case of this MIT event, it’s more about the mission and philosophy of information quality.

Day one focuses on education, with highly qualified and very interesting speakers teaching you about enterprise architecture, data governance, business intelligence, data warehousing. and data quality. Latest methodologies, frameworks, and best practice cases are the topics. Day two, the sessions deconstruct industry-specific topics. There is a government track, healthcare track and business track. On the last day, a half day, the sessions are more about the future of information quality.

I’ve grown to really enjoy the presentations, information quality theory and hallway chat that you find here. If you have some travel budget, please consider earmarking some of it for this event.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Short Ham Rule and Data Governance

One of my old bosses, a long time IBM VP who was trained in the traditional Big Blue executive training program, used to refer to the “short ham” rule quite often. With my apologies for its lack of political correctness, the story goes something like this:

Sarah is recently married and for the first time decides to cook the Easter ham for her new extended family. Her spouse’s sisters, mother and grandmother are all coming to dinner and as a new bride, she is nervous. As the family arrives, she begins preparing it for dinner.

Sarah’s sister-in-law Debbie helps with the preparation.
As Sarah begins to put the ham into the oven, Debbie stops her. “You must cut off the back half of the ham before it goes into the oven.” she says.

Sarah was nervous, but somehow musters the courage to ask a simple question – why?
Debbie is shaken for a moment at the nerve of her new sister-in-law. How dare she question the family tradition?

Debbie pauses then says, “Well, I’m not sure. My Mom always does it. Let’s ask her why.”


When asked, Mom also hesitates. “Well, my Mom always cut off that part of the ham. I’m not sure why.”


Finally, the group turns to Grandma, who is sitting in her rocking chair listening to the discussion. By now, the entire party has heard about the outrageous boldness of Sarah. The party turns silent as the elder slowly begins to whisper her answer. “Well, I grew up in the depression and we didn’t have a pan big enough to fit the whole ham. So, we’d cut off part of it and saved it for another meal.”


Three factors in the short ham story caused change. First, Sarah’s courage to take on the project of cooking the ham started the change. Second, Sarah’s willingness to listen and learn the processes of others in the family gave her credibility in the eyes of the family. Finally, Sarah’s question – why – that created change. It was only with audacity that Sarah was able to educate and make the holiday feast more enjoyable.

The same can be said about leading your company toward of data governance. You have to have the courage to take on new projects, understand the business processes, and ask why to become an agent for change in your organization. A leader has to get past resistance and convince others to embrace new ways of doing things.

Building credibility is the key to overcoming the resistance. If you were to sit down and work for a day in the billing center, call center or purchasing agent job, for example, people there will see that you understand them and care about their processes. At the very least, you could invite a business person to lunch to understand their challenges. The hearts and minds of the people can be won if you walk a mile in their shoes.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Information Quality Success at Nectar

It’s great when you see data quality programs work. Such is the case in Europe, where Loyalty Management Group (LMG) has improved efficiency and information quality in a very large, retail-based, customer loyalty program. I hadn’t heard of Nectar all that much here in the USA, but the Nectar card is very well-known in the UK. About half of all UK households use it to earn points from everyday purchases and later redeem those points for gifts and prizes. Recently, Groupe Aeroplan purchased LMG and Nectar is now their brand.

Using the databases generated by Nectar, the company also provides database marketing and consulting services to retailers, service providers and consumer packaged goods companies worldwide. Data is really the company’s primary asset.

Nectar data
The data management effort needed to handle half the population of the UK and a good portion of Europe could be perilous. To make matters worse, data entered into the Nectar system generally comes from paper-based forms available in stores or received through mailings, online or by phoning a call center. All of these sources could produce poor data if not checked.

To gain closer business control, the company made business management responsible for data integrity rather than IT. The company also embedded the Trillium Software System in its own systems, including in real-time for online and call center applications.

At first, LMG used just the basic capabilities of the tool to ensure that at enrollment, addresses matched to UK Postcode Address File (PAF). Later, the company engaged a business-oriented data quality steward to review existing processes and propose new policy. For example, they set up various checks using Trillium Software to check for mandatory information at the point of registration. A process is now in place where the data collector is notified of missing information.

Information quality often lands and expands into an organization, once folks see how powerful it can be. In LMG’s case, the Trillium Software System is implemented to help partners match their own customer databases with the Nectar collector database. For certain campaigns, Nectar partners might want to know which individuals are on both their own customer database and on the Nectar database, or which customers are common to both. The Trillium Software System allows for this, including the process of pre-processing the partner’s data where necessary, to bring it up to a sufficient standard for accurate matching.

You can download the whole story on LMG here.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer. The material written here is copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Sarsfield. To request permission to reuse, please e-mail me.