Many managers believe that quality information is key to their success. Do they act on that belief? Not convincingly. Most senior executives have experienced the costs of decisions based on poor information. Most general managers have dealt with the frustration of knowing that they have data within the firm but they cannot access it in the integrated form needed.1 Most chief information officers have faced the discomfort of explaining why, in light of the company’s costly investments in IT, the data are of poor quality or inaccessible. Firms recognize the need for quality information and many strive to satisfy it. All too often, however, the results are disappointing.
During the past decade, we have investigated the information quality problems that organizations encountered. What clearly stands out from our research is the need for companies to treat information as a product. Often, however, companies treat information as a by-product; they focus on the systems or the events that produce the information instead of the information content. To treat information as a product, a company must follow four principles:
- Understand consumers’ information needs.
- Manage information as the product of a well-defined production process.
- Manage information as a product with a life cycle.
- Appoint an information product manager (IPM) to manage the information processes and resulting product.
We call the application of these principles the information product (IP) approach. It is the keystone on which the delivery of high-quality information depends. In this article, we argue for adoption of the IP approach and provide a framework for its implementation. We use four cases, drawn from our field research experiences, to illustrate the IP approach’s principles and the negative consequences that result without them.
Introducing the Cases
Financial Company is a leading investment bank with extensive domestic and international operations. Its customers needed to trade immediately after opening a new account. The new account had to be linked to other accounts that the customer may have opened, and the information in all accounts had to be accurate, up to date, and consistent. The bank required real-time account balance information to enforce minimum account balance rules across a customer’s multiple accounts. Failure to obtain that information exposed the bank to potentially large monetary losses. By statute, the bank had to close all of a customer’s accounts when informed by federal authorities of criminal activities by that customer. Adhering to the statute required timely, integrated information.