Quality depends on data because effective decision making depends on data. As a result, successful business and process outcomes will depend on building a culture of quality around data. This includes creating and following management processes to make data accessible, available, and accurate.
One strategy for improving process quality through data is to identify master data and decide which system of record will hold each type of master data. This is similar to knowing who the experts are in your company, knowing how to find them when you need them, and getting assurance that they will provide you with accurate, up-to-date information. For example, your Environment, Health, Safety & Quality (EHSQ) system may be your system of record for emissions, incidents, exposure data, and quality events, providing a single source of truth for these processes.
Master data is some of the most important data your organization has – and represents the key objects that your business is built on. By strategically managing master data, you can establish a single source of truth for the most important information you have. Knowing where to find reliable, authoritative data will shorten the time required to make decisions and ensure that those decisions are based on fact. Master data includes information about people or parties (customers, suppliers, employees), things (products, services, and assets), and locations (facilities, sites, offices). (Cleven & Wortmann, 2010)
System of Record
A system of record is a data repository or software application that is the authoritative source for each element of master data. Each party, thing, or location your organization identifies as important must be associated with a system where it will be stored and maintained. Because both people and digital systems will look to the systems of record for truth, maintaining the accuracy and timeliness of the information is important. As a result, once your organization has master records of each of its critical objects, processes should be built around them to make sure they are maintained appropriately. This might include processes for cleaning, auditing, committing, or tracking changes to records.
How do you know if data should be in a system of record? Hurst (2019) makes these recommendations:
- The data is used to run a mission-critical business process
- It is proprietary
- Many employees interact with it daily or weekly
- It is needed for important business decisions
- It captures knowledge that the business needs even if the employee leaves
- It is enhanced and improved over time
The practice of master data management is not new – information technology (IT) departments have been doing some form of this for decades. But today, close collaboration between IT and operations is essential to adapt to the data-driven changes that emerging technologies are forcing us to face.
Just identifying master data and the systems of record they live in will improve the efficiency of work processes and drive continuous improvement. People will know where to look for the information they need instead of wasting time looking in multiple locations, and will no longer make decisions based on bad (or old) information. If you don’t have a single source of truth for your data, encourage your leaders and your IT organization to help you take the first steps.
Booth, D. (2018). Building Capacity by Hacking Your System Implementation. Journal of Environmental Health, 80(8), 30.
Cleven, A., & Wortmann, F. (2010, January). Uncovering four strategies to approach master data management. In 2010 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (pp. 1-10), IEEE.
Hurst, H. (2019). 5 Systems of Record Every Modern Enterprise Needs. Available from https://www.workfront.com/blog/systems-of-record
Radziwill, N. M. (2019, June 18). From Quality to Impact: It’s All About the Data. Intelex Webinar. Available from LINK TO WEBINAR
About the Author
Nicole Radziwill is the Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Quality & Supply Chain at Intelex Technologies. Before Intelex, she was an Associate Professor of Data Science and Production Systems, Assistant Director (VP) End-to-End Operations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and manager and consultant for several other organizations since the late 1990’s bringing quality management to technologically-oriented operations. She is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) with a Ph.D. in Quality Systems from Indiana State University. Nicole serves as Editor of Software Quality Professional (SQP) journal and is a former Chair of the ASQ Software Division. She is an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE) and Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB).
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