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The quality of information is critical in the performance of business. This is widely accepted not just by corporations with substantial IT investment and a comprehensive approach to enterprise architecture and business intelligence.

Decision-making by senior management requires timely, accurate, complete and insightful information. Treating information as merely an input to decision-making is not enough.

An organisation needs to consider information as an asset. It needs to recognise the value that intelligence about market, customer, product and operations has in sharpening performance.

If we were considering a significant fixed asset – a piece of factory equipment, for example – one would expect to see such things as comprehensive maintenance arrangements, detailed ongoing measurement and analysis of yield, periodic revaluations, and even long-term plans for retirement and replacement. Equally, if it were a current asset, such as stock, one would expect to see controls over production and robust quality control applied to the manufacturing process to ensure supply matched demand, while ensuring the product did not go past its sell-by date.

So why is this asset called information not treated in the same way?

One of the answers relates to the scale of the job. Vital information on customers, products, suppliers and business regions, often exists in several locations, on different systems that evolved over time with little pro-active management.

The problem is compounded when processes and controls to ensure data is captured consistently and accurately at source are not defined, set up and enforced.

Where systems do offer the opportunity for the user to enter valuable information, the prevailing culture often encourages them to enter the basic information to move to the next screen, safe in the knowledge that someone downstream will deal with it when it hits the relevant spreadsheet.

Many businesses have the functional and technical skills necessary to tackle these thorny problems and the desire to bring order to data chaos.

However, they often find themselves forced to create yet another source of data to meet urgent requirements, thereby adding to the problem.

This may be in spite of an intention to improve overall information quality

For example, most financial institutions are investing heavily in data architectures and data management processes to address the significant change forced by regulatory and legislative initiatives.

These include Basel II, IFRS, Anti-Money Laundering, Know Your Customer and Fraud Prevention.

While most are attempting to use this significant investment to bring improved coherence to the information architecture, organisational complexity, practical necessity and incompatible time-scales mean a plethora of discrete and often competing data repositories will prevail.

The signs are that MIFID and Solvency II will see yet more compromise in the apparent interests of information quality.

For several years now, improving business performance has focused on cost reduction initiatives and significant parts of the investment portfolio have been used for regulatory-related challenges.

However, there is strong recognition across the market that not only does there need to be a balance between efficiency drives, compliance and value creation and growth but investment budgets are more readily being made available to address the latter.

Accordingly, as many businesses are realising, making progress in this domain requires not only access to high quality, reliable information but also the ability to exploit the competitive opportunities that the access and dissemination of this information provides – the very information that has gone largely unmanaged for many years and which, as a result, cannot be relied upon.

With the volumes of data and demands for information growing at a near exponential rate, the information quality challenge is becoming an increasingly critical one to address creatively.

Businesses that want to thrive, rather than merely survive, and tap into growth opportunities need to rise to the information quality challenges in their business.

Many significant information and technology projects need to be focused towards delivering solutions that address the challenges around the data mountain, improve information quality and make a demonstrable performance impact from this most valuable asset.

■Mark Douglas is director in consulting at Deloitte

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