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Evaluate the Quality of Your Business Information

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify the information you need by asking questions.
  • Explain information quality to a friend or colleague.
  • Avoid information bias and misuse.

Start by Asking a Lot of Questions

Seven cartoon heads in a row with one individual raising his hand; a thought bubble with a question mark is above his head. Text reads: Start by Asking a Lot of Questions.

Wouldn’t it be great to know your organization’s IQ? Of course, we are referring to information quality (IQ). We rely on the quality of information to help us make informed decisions, and to collaborate with others on business initiatives that help our customers, colleagues, and organizations succeed. However, the quality of information can vary. Just ask the manager that made an expensive equipment purchase, only to find out later that she based her decision on incomplete specifications, and that the new equipment won’t handle the type of work the company is planning to do in the future—not a good situation.

Because each situation will have its own unique information requirements, a good place to start is by asking a lot of questions. Too often, people skip this step, thinking they know what’s needed, only to find out later that they were off the mark. As Peter Drucker summed it up, skipping the questions step can lead to serious mistakes.

Photo of Peter Drucker holding his glasses
“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.”
Peter F. Drucker



At an executive level, Drucker’s 5 Most Important Questions can help us reflect deeply on the nature of the business and the value provided to customers, and as shown in the table below, can be used to identify information requirements. To learn more, check out the Drucker School—Business Performance Basics module.

Drucker’s 5 Most Important Questions

Q. What information:
What is our purpose?


Will help us define or fulfill our purpose?

Who are our customers?

Will help us understand our customers better?

What do our customers value?
Is needed to identify what our customers truly value?

What are our results?
Will help us measure achievement of our purpose?

What is our plan?
Will help us develop plans and monitor progress towards fulfilling our purpose?

At the application level, try the following list of questions. The list isn’t exhaustive, but the questions can get you pointed in the right direction.


Application-Level Information Needs Assessment Questions


  1. What are we trying to achieve at a customer and organizational performance level?
  2. Is there a specific problem, challenge, or opportunity we’re facing?
  3. Are there any known cause-and-effect relationships, models, frameworks, or industry standards that can help us?
  4. Who will be using the information to make decisions and/or take actions?
  5. What types of decisions will be made and/or actions taken based on the information?
  6. What level of information quality is required?
  7. Are there any requirements for information formatting and presentation?

System administrators and developers can use the application-level questions above to improve information requests, which can lead to system changes that work. A vague request for “more detailed retention reports” can easily become a more actionable Agile-like user story, such as:

“In order to improve customer retention, the account management team is requesting better visibility to warning signs of potential account issues. Account managers are tasked with proactively identifying and addressing potential account issues. To fulfill this request, account managers are requesting: (a) daily, weekly, and monthly summaries of call volumes to customer service grouped by account, and (b) push alerts when high-severity calls come into customer service for their account.”

As you can see, there are different ways to accomplish the questioning step. The important thing to remember is to not skip this step because it helps us identify the right information needed for the job at hand.

Perform an IQ Assessment

A cartoon pair of arms holding a magnifying glass to a pie chart on the screen of a computer tablet. Text reads: Perform an IQ Assessment.

When trying to identify what information to gather, or when evaluating existing information, it can be extremely helpful to perform an IQ assessment. IQ assessments can help us identify information requirements and determine if existing information is fit for use. IQ assessments can also help improve user acceptance of the information, and improve decision-making. Based on research, we can assess IQ using the following dimensions:

IQ Dimensions
Is the information:
Intrinsic IQ
  1. Accurate?
  2. Believable?
  3. Reputable?
  4. Objective?
Contextual IQ
  1. Value-added?
  2. Relevant?
  3. Complete?
  4. Timely?
  5. Appropriate in amount?
Representational IQ
  1. Understandable?
  2. Interpretable?
  3. Concisely representational?
  4. Consistently representational?
Accessibility IQ
  1. Accessible?
  2. Easily operational?
  3. Secure?

Although the IQ dimensions and characteristics look pretty simple, often tough decisions need to be made regarding the usability of the information. For example, a marketer in the consumer electronics industry came across a report that had some interesting marketing best practices. However, the report was prepared over ten years ago for the pharmaceuticals industry, and it was prepared by a third-party corporation that she had never heard of. In this case, the marketer needs to decide if the report findings are usable. Using the IQ characteristics, she has some critical questions to answer, such as:

  • Is the report prepared by a reputable and objective source?
  • Are the findings generalizable from one context (the pharmaceutical industry) to her context (consumer electronics)?
  • Is there a newer report with updated findings available?
  • Is there a similar report available for her industry?

By taking the time to perform the IQ assessment, she may prevent some major headaches down the road.

Avoid the Bias Trap

A cartoon human body leaps over the open maw of a steel trap. Text reads: Avoid the Bias Trap

An archenemy of information quality is bias. Information bias can result in incorrect and even harmful decisions. Knowing more about what bias is, and the root causes of it, can help us avoid it.

In the workplace, bias is often caused by human tendencies and viewpoints that are not neutral or objective. For example, if a person (or group of people) has a strong opinion about something (or has taken a strong stance on something in the past), then they may generate, interpret, and present information in a way that reinforces their opinions. For example, an employee may present only favorable information regarding her/his program performance—leaving out or downplaying any issues. Bias can also be found in works created by people that are incentivized to produce certain results—examples include paid blogs and reports that might look impartial, but aren’t.

Since much of what we know originates from research, and since many people like to support their positions with research, it may be helpful to know that the definition of bias pertaining to research is a bit different:

“In research, bias occurs when ‘systematic error [is] introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others.’ Bias can occur at any phase of research, including study design or data collection, as well as in the process of data analysis and publication.” Source: NCBI. 

To reduce as much systematic error and bias as possible, researchers are trained to conduct their research in a rigorous, impartial manner. To help improve the trustworthiness of information produced, many top academic journals use a double-blind peer review process before publishing research articles. The system isn’t foolproof, but it tends to be much more rigorous than the processes used by other sources. That’s why many people tend to rely on academic research, especially when it’s published in top-tier journals.

Summary

In this unit, we examined some best practices for using questioning strategies to identify the nature of information required for the job at hand. We also examined how the dimensions and characteristics of information quality (IQ) can be used to assess information. In the next unit, we explore best practices for interpreting and communicating information.

Resources

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