Larry English calls for an information quality revolution

Larry English, in an interview, calls for an information quality revolution that will put the customer first. New rules are necessary for the “information age 3.0”.

Larry English will call for a new set of rules and regulations to make companies and other organisations improve their information quality and reinstate the customer as king at a forthcoming data management conference in London. English, the information quality authority, synonymous with the “Deming” manufacturing quality principles that galvanized Japanese industry in the post-war period, is determined to recruit a new army of quality evangelists.

“We are in the midst of a huge paradigm shift that will either be missed or discovered to reveal the principles of the new information age 3.0”, he told SearchDataManagementUK, ahead of IRM UK’s compendium conference in November – Data Management & Information Quality/Data Warehousing & Business Intelligence. “We have to make it happen”.

English is the president and principal at Information Impact International, and a noted disciple of William Edwards Deming, whose total quality management principles underpin Toyota’s manufacturing system. English argues that we are now in the grip of a “third era of the information age”. The first age, on his account, was the 1950s and 1960s when IT enabled workers to calculate numbers. The second was the 1970s and 1980s, when database management systems matured to open the possibility of enterprise level management. However, “in those days there were no capabilities to share information across systems”.

English urged senior executives to avoid paying lip service to quality. “The foundation principles [of Information Total Quality Management] tended to be ignored or misunderstood in the 1970s and 1980s”.

Managers must, he said, absorb the full force of Deming’s system of profound knowledge, built on four pillars: manage the enterprise as a single system – “like a symphony orchestra”; “eliminate variation, that is to say, defects”; understand human behaviour to prevent conflict; and follow a rigorous theory of what it means for data to be knowledge.

“Data is facts. Information is what knowledge workers can use to make decisions”, English said.

Another crucial influence on his thinking is the management theorist Peter Drucker. English cited Drucker’s thesis of customer enthronement in his 1973 book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “The customer is the most important person with respect to the enterprise”, stressed English.

This idea of improving information quality so that the customer is number one is more radical than it might seem, he suggested. “Getting to the new paradigm is dramatically counter-intuitive because it is customers who fund [the enterprise], not the stockholders, who are expecting a profit on their investment -- a temporary loan.

“We still have companies exploiting their employees with unfair compensation plans for senior management. Top executives are allocating huge differentials in bonuses. But it’s the workers who create the value.

“The message to top management is that they need to be coached to understand that customers come first”.

Larry English’s latest book is Information Quality Applied.

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