Data Quality Management: An ITaaS Game Changer

Becoming financially transparent and allowing IT customers to see and control what they invest in IT services is a critical part of transforming your IT operation into an IT-as-a-Service model. But those financial details are only as good as the data they are drawn from.  Data Quality Management is foundational to building an ITaaS model, as well as to maintaining credible financial transparency as your IT operation evolves and matures.

EMC IT began focusing on Data Quality Management back in 2011, when we pursued financial transparency as part of our ITaaS transformation. The goal was to transition our IT operation from a traditional centralized, cost-center based IT budget— where users had little or no information on the cost and value of what they consumed—to a financially transparent one providing increased detail on users’ IT spend.

To do this, we had to pull data from various IT locations, including finance and operations, to determine the cost of each IT service our customers were consuming. As we tried to correlate this disparate data, there were gaps and inconsistencies that hindered accurate costing and billing for each service. In some instances, data fields were blank or inconsistently labeled in different databases.

It is a challenge that most IT operations face as they begin their ITaaS journey. Not only were our IT operations siloed, but so was the data we create and used. The storage, server and network experts didn’t have the same cares.

Pulling it together to build a single story requires a new approach. In other words, moving toward ITaaS and running IT like a business requires us to cost out services and pull data together across the silos in a correlated format. If we were billing for a particular application, we needed to be able to list all of the cost components, including labor, depreciation, maintenance costs, etc.

The systems all need to talk to each other. It’s part of the evolutionary path to ITaaS. And, hopefully, sharing the route we took at EMC IT will help make your trek a bit easier.

Business rules to check quality

We started our data quality push by looking at all the data systems of record, the data patterns and how we could tie them together. We first began to address the data quality by setting some basic business rules and defining the required data fields, terminology, practices and how to identify errors or incomplete records. Data quality comes down to looking at all the systems of record and setting rules to determine whether entries are correct and complete.

In 2011, we had 34 business rules. At first, we did visual comparisons to spot issues but we eventually created a small application using a simple web front end with a SQL database backend to allow us to monitor data quality.

Since then, our data quality management system has evolved to include 88 business rules and a more extensive automation system that lets us monitor hundreds of thousands of records. We are now in the process of migrating to a more sophisticated data quality platform—Informatica IDQ—which allows us to do data profiling and better analysis of our data challenge issues.

Data stewards are essential

Data Quality Management goes beyond rules and automation. It requires an effective network of people who take responsibility for the data in their areas of expertise, spot problems and fix them as needed. Setting up a network of data stewards— who understand the data and how it is being consumed— to be accountable for data quality is an essential step.

For EMC IT, we established a council in 2012 made up of ten data stewards from around the globe. We chose stewards based on their experience and areas of work to represent data sources: operational data such as application data, server data, storage data, and finance data such as depreciation, general ledger, cost centers, business unit mappings, etc. We also established automated quality score cards for each of the ten data domains based on the business rules, which rank quality as green (good), yellow or red.

Our data steward council meets every two weeks to monitor quality scorecards, review progress on resolving quality issues and discuss opportunities for quality improvements. One council member acts as a “champion” who helps facilitate quality conversations, coordinate measurements and coordinates steward efforts and reports.

Data stewardship was a game-changer for us in terms of continuously improving our data. As with the organization itself, data characteristics and processes are always changing and evolving. The council is able to respond to the new issues which arise every month as well as keeping up with ongoing quality needs.

Without data quality, we’d continually have to address one-off issues, constantly fix data and then six months later going back to fix it again. That is expensive and time-consuming and doesn’t create the reliability we need to have confidence in our financial transparency numbers.

Start small and build on quality

By 2013, EMC IT had achieved a 95 percent data quality level for our IT data that supports financial transparency, a level we continue to maintain. (For us, pursuing 100 percent would provide limited benefits and doesn’t justify the effort needed.)

EMC IT currently charges back more than 90 percent of our IT services to our users, providing the financial details they need to hone their individual IT investment strategies. Our Data Quality Management process ensures that we are accurately depicting each component of their IT service costs and responding to changes as our organization continues to evolve.

In your ITaaS journey, remember that Data Quality Management goes hand in hand with establishing financial transparency. Just as with financial transparency itself, you can begin by addressing cost data that has the biggest impact on your service costing and then refine quality efforts. It’s okay to start small and build on this foundational component of ITaaS.

For more information on financial transparency, read Neil’s blog “IT Financial Transparency: Eyes Wide Open to Opportunity” and the EMC white paper IT Financial Transparency: EMC’s Successful Journey to Achieving Enterprise Chargeback for IT As A Service.

About the Author: Neil Thibodeau