Point 1: Transparency in business and in government means that you know what’s going on (or can find out). You have access to information about the organization’s processes and results, it is clearly presented, and it is understandable. It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand accountability when transparency does not exist. In the emerging ISO 26000 standard for social responsibility, both transparency and accountability are important.
Point 2: In data management, we struggle with the concept of provenance: how to track what happened to your data at every step of its journey – from being collected, to being operated upon by a host of processes and algorithms, to being evaluated, analyzed and visualized.
McClatchy reports today that the U.S. government is having problems with both. In “Where did that bank bailout go? Watchdogs aren’t entirely sure”, Chris Adams describes the murkiness of the issue:
Although hundreds of well-trained eyes are watching over the $700 billion that Congress last year decided to spend bailing out the nation’s financial sector, it’s still difficult to answer some of the most basic questions about where the money went.
Despite a new oversight panel, a new special inspector general, the existing Government Accountability Office and eight other inspectors general, those charged with minding the store say they don’t have all the weapons they need. Ten months into the Troubled Asset Relief Program, some members of Congress say that some oversight of bailout dollars has been so lacking that it’s essentially worthless.
Bottom line: achieving transparency requires successfully managing provenance. But in the case of the bailout, are transparency problems an information technology issue, or a policy issue?
Why are Ford, Chrysler and GM in trouble? Can a financial bailout help? In late 2007, I wrote a 7,000 word article examining the ups and downs of the U.S. auto industry. Using a historical analysis of high-level metrics and examining the evolution of quality perception and quality improvement in the auto industry, I show that a financial crisis could actually be detected a year ago.
Radziwill, N.M. (2008). The Role of Quality in the Decline of the U.S. Automotive Industry. Unpublished manuscript, retrieved on Month DD, YYYY from https://qualityandinnovation.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/radziwill_qualitydeclineusautoind.docDownload the report by clicking on the title; contact me if you would like to run this in your magazine or journal.
In 2007, in response to disappointing market shares over the previous few years, General Motors (GM) launched an ad campaign to convince consumers that the quality of its vehicles was comparable to foreign manufacturers in order to catalyze sales and grow market share. This situation was not unprecedented. In 1982, the National Academies recognized a similar crisis and launched a study to investigate why it occurred. What quality-related root causes have historically led to deteriorating conditions within the U.S. automotive industry? How can auto manufacturers and U.S. policymakers use this information to strengthen this sector of the economy in the future? An analysis of the economic, regulatory, and financial impacts of quality is used to identify the points in time at which quality-related causes led to a downturn in the U.S. automotive industry. The results are used to gauge the managerial implications that could avert such events.
Excerpt from Conclusions
What can manufacturers do to prevent quality-related downturns within an industry? Based on the analysis of this case in automotive manufacturing, there is no substitute, first and foremost, for effective financial management. Ensuring positive cash flows and profitability means that assets will be available for investing in new initiatives that improve quality, or for the marketing efforts that will reveal and promote a quality reputation. According to the ACSI’s most recent ten-year report, U.S. manufacturers continue to compete on price while foreign manufacturers continue to compete on quality. Though some argue that quality is becoming competitively neutral (Harbour, 2006), there are clear lessons from history that this focus erodes market share and challenges productivity over the long term. Although U.S. automakers are now as efficient as any other manufacturers in the world (Warner, 2005), and quality levels are competitive, the financial crisis may be so severe that the industry could require strong federal support, and potentially intervention, to fully recover.
Here are some additional perspectives from other blogs: