Selection criteria for quality controlled information gateways
Work Package 3 of Telematics for Research project DESIRE (RE 1004)
Table of Contents
Quality can be applied to many products and processes. Traditionally it has been applied by management scientists to refer to product quality and, more recently, service quality. Although it can be difficult to adequately define "quality", current approaches to quality stress that processes are as important as tangible results, as is the case with TQM. Standards like ISO 9000 and BS5750 provide a framework for the implementation of quality management in an organisation, but do not otherwise address the issues of product or service quality. The information industry has recently turned its attention to the notion of product quality with regard to online databases and CD-ROM and progress has been made in co-operation with the library community and online user groups. Quality is usually defined in relation to a set of guidelines or criteria. The same broad approach is currently being applied to information provided over the Internet.
Internet subject gateways have mostly defined "quality" with relation to carefully chosen lists of selection criteria. Quality has, however, been a subject of serious study in industry and management science since the Second World War. It might be useful to describe some of the concepts developed by management theorists and practitioners and to investigate their relevance to the quality selection issue. Finally, work being done on databases and information quality will be described.
Quality has been analysed as a factor in the management process
since the 1930s, but it was not until after the Second World War
that it became important. North American managers brought in
to advise Japanese companies on restructuring after the war devised
new concepts of quality which began to be accepted as being of
universal application. The important pioneers in this field were
W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran and Kaoru Ishikawa.
A universally agreed definition of quality still does not exist.
Juran (1988, p. 2.8) suggested that quality should be seen as
"fitness for use". Another short definition views quality
as "conformance to requirements" rather than "goodness,
or luxury, or shininess, or weight" (Crosby 1979, p. 17).
These definitions from the management literature make it clear
that quality cannot just be defined in relation to some abstract
concept of "excellence", but should be seen in relation
to the demands of the user of the final product. A recent working
definition of "quality" has been provided by Clark,
Money and Tynan (1990, cited in Clark 1992):
"How consistently the product or service delivered, meets
or exceeds the customers' (external and internal) expectations
In the management context, quality processes can be applied to any product. A product can be defined as the "output of any process", consisting mainly of "goods, software, and services" (Juran 1988, p. 2.2).
Product quality is usually defined with specific relation to the product, whether it is a good or service. For goods, important aspects might be reliability, durability, performance characteristics, aesthetics, etc. These dimensions will differ according to the product type: the most important factor being whether it meets the end requirements of the customer (Bergman and Klefsjö 1994, p. 19).
Early quality models concentrated on goods. The enormous growth
of the service sector in Western economies since the Second World
War has resulted in a growing literature on service quality. Defining
and modelling the quality of services is generally acknowledged
to be more difficult than modelling the quality of goods due to
the intangible nature of services themselves (Bergman & Klefsjö,
1994, pp. 266-267). There are two popular models of service quality
1. Grönroos's service quality model
The model created by Grönroos (1984b) attempts to understand
how the quality of a given service is perceived by customers.
It divides the customer's perception of any particular service
into two dimensions:
Grönroos (1984b, p. 41) suggested that, in the context of
services, functional quality is generally perceived to be more
important than technical quality, assuming that the service is
provided at a technically satisfactory level. He also points out
that the functional quality dimension can be perceived in a very
subjective manner (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Grönroos's Service Quality Model
Source: Grönroos (1984b, p. 40)
Grönroos's model is important because it reminds us that
service quality must include the manner in which it is delivered.
2. The 'Gap' model
The 'Gap' model (Parasuraman et al. 1985; Zeithaml et
al. 1990) is a means of describing customer dissatisfaction
in the context of service quality. A team from Texas A&M University
carried out some interviews with executives in U.S. firms and
with consumers. A series of five 'gaps' regarding service quality
were then identified:
"A set of key discrepancies or gaps exists regarding executive
perceptions of service quality and the tasks associated with service
delivery to consumers. These gaps can be major hurdles in attempting
to deliver a service which consumers would perceive as being of
high quality" (Parasuraman et al. 1985, p. 44).
Five gaps were identified:
It is this last 'gap' which has the most significance.
The 'Gap' model keeps a clear focus on the perceptions of the
customer, and these are seen as paramount
As part of this research, criteria for evaluating
service quality were gathered. Ten key categories were identified
which they called "Service Quality Determinants", and
noted that despite the different types of service analysed, consumers
used fairly similar criteria. The ten Service Quality Determinants
listed by Zeithaml et al. (1990, pp. 21-22) were the following:
It is possible that these criteria could provide
an initial framework for the development of quality criteria in
The ten determinants of service quality interact
in the minds of customers with other factors, namely past experience,
word of mouth and external communications to create a view of
what service is expected. The diagram (Fig. 2) gives an indication
of other factors which might impact on consumer expectations and
thereby consumer perceptions of quality. Personal word of mouth
communications are still important and still exist in a network
environment. Electronic mailing-lists frequently get messages
of the type "I've looked at this WWW site, and found it useful
/ not very useful / amusing; here is the URL". This factor
in particular brings another level of subjectivity into the model,
and leaves service quality definitions vulnerable to aspects of
human behaviour, for example: the desire to emulate other people's
choices associated with and exploited by the fashion industry.
This could create potential inefficiencies (Anand et
The work on determinants led to the development of a scale for measuring customer perceptions of service quality called SERVQUAL (Parasuraman et al. 1988; Zeithaml et al. 1990, pp. 175-186; Parasuraman et al. 1991). This scale has been subject to criticism and refinement and there is a continuing debate about the measurement of service quality and the determinants which should be used (Mathews 1995).Fig. 2. Parasuraman, et al.'s Determinants of Perceived Service Quality
Source: Parasuraman, et al. (1985, p. 48)
Companies are constantly encouraged to develop an improved emphasis on service quality. Schlesinger and Heskett (1991), for example, argue that organisations should abandon the industrial approach to services - the mass-production techniques used in supermarkets, fast-food restaurants and airports - and adopt a "new model" of service based around customers' requirements. Additionally, the service quality debate is connected with the debates on "excellence" initiated by the management guru Tom Peters (Peters and Waterman 1982) and other concepts like market orientation (Caruana and Pitt 1994; Caruana et al. 1994).
The development of the quality concept in industry has created
a requirement for an organisational structure which can include
quality concepts at every stage in the planning and delivery of
a product or service. The process is called Total Quality Management
(TQM). The essence of a TQM strategy is described by Bergman and
Klefsjö (1994, p. 22).
The important insight is that quality becomes a continuous process. This is especially important for service industries, where customer perceptions of quality are constantly changing. Quality becomes a process of continuous feedback and improvement. This process is known as a "quality system". Bullivant (1994, p. 14) defines TQM as "a commitment to a company-wide culture where everyone is clear of the direction and objectives of the organisation and work in support of each other to achieve these goals". Rowley (1996), however, notes that while there is general agreement about the theoretical aspect of TQM, the practical aspects of implementation are more problematic.
National and international standards authorities have turned their
attention to quality in recent years. In the UK the British Standards
Institution (BSI) first published BS 5750 in 1979 for quality
systems and the standard was further developed by the International
Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) into the ISO 9000 series.
A useful definition of quality is found in ISO 8402: "quality
is the totality of features and characteristics of a product or
service that bears on its ability to satisfy stated or implied
needs" (ISO 8402: 1986). This has since been refined to
"the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear on
its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs" (ISO 8402:
1994; EN ISO 8402; BS EN ISO 8402: 1995).
The ISO 9000 approach has been applied in many different organisations and obtaining certification can be essential in some industries (Rothery 1993; Harvard 1994). Although services can be included in the certification process (ISO 9004-2: 1991; EN 29004-2: 1993; BS 5750: Part 8: 1991), ISO 9000 is seen primarily as a product-orientated rather than process-orientated model.
Benchmarking is another recent approach to ensuring improvements
in quality. Bullivant (1994, p. 1) defines benchmarking as "the
continuous process of measuring products, services and practices
against leaders, allowing the identification of best practices
which will lead to sustained and superior performance".
Benchmarking can be carried out with relation to different types
of organisation (Bendell et al. 1993, pp. 69-70):
The purpose of the benchmarking process is not just to understand the processes carried out by other organisations, but to enable a considered self-assessment to be made of your own organisation.
It is only comparatively recently that the library and information
community have taken an interest in quality assessment and analysis
(Morrison 1994). In the UK a guide to implementing BS 5750 and
ISO 9000 in libraries was published in 1993 (Norton and Ellis
1993) and there has been a increasing interest in quality issues
in both Germany and the Nordic countries (IMO 1995, Johannsen
1995). This interest is largely concerned with issues of quality
management (Brophy, Coulling and Melling 1993; Kinnell 1995; Pilling
1996; Seay, Seaman and Cohen 1996; White and Abels 1995) or TQM
(Brockman 1992; Martin 1993; Rowley 1996) and has led to the development
of a set of IFLA guidelines for performance measurement in academic
libraries (Boekhorst 1995) and a draft international standard
on library performance indicators (Carbone 1995). In addition
to this emphasis, however, there has been an additional focus
on defining information quality both with regard to bibliographic
records and with electronic databases. It was the advent of shared
computerised cataloguing that made the quality of bibliographic
records an issue and studies of this have been carried out both
in the UK and USA (Chapman 1994; Thomas1996).
Information quality was not a serious concern for libraries before
the advent of electronic databases. Libraries would select books
and journals according to their own criteria, which would usually
have some reference to users' needs or the requirements of the
host organisation. This general approach was later applied to
other information formats when they came available, (microforms,
video cassettes, LP records, CD-ROMs, etc.), within the financial
constraints of the organisation. Information quality itself began
to be a serious concern with the increasing use of electronic
databases, both online and on CD-ROM.
Early online databases were regarded with respect by their librarian
users. Basch (1992, p. 85) notes that they were regarded as "nothing
short of miraculous" as research tools. For this reason,
it was only by the late 1980s that database users began to make
suggestions as to how they could be improved. The 1989 Annual
Retreat of the Southern California Online Users Group (SCOUG)
developed a "user wish list" (Basch 1990a), and the
following year, a rating list for database quality (Basch 1990c).
The rating list was arranged in a set of ten categories:
SCOUG dedicated their 1995 Annual Retreat to the subject of quality
on the Internet (SCOUG 1995). The participants noted that the
Internet was quite different to the database industry as most
information providers were not motivated primarily by financial
considerations. Information providers therefore had little or
no incentive to improve the quality of their "product".
SCOUG also noted that whilst certain technical standards were
in place, primarily HTML and the work being carried out by the
WWW Consortium, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and
commercial organisations like Netscape, there were no content
standards. They considered that people might be prepared to pay
for a service which gave access to "charted, safe, quality
areas" of the Internet (Ebbinghouse 1995b). They identified
quality issues under the following general headings (Ebbinghouse
Because of the nature of the meeting, the quality
issues raised by SCOUG do not all refer specifically to information
quality but to the Internet generally.
An Information Market Observatory report on The
quality of electronic information products and services was
published in September 1995 (IMO 1995). It concentrated on quality
issues raised by commercial databases, but did make mention of
the Internet. The report identified the main problems as:
It also made mention of the World Wide Web (WWW).
there is much duplication between sites.
Sites and resources can appear, move or disappear very quickly.
Web sites contain information that ranges from the highly significant
through to the trivial and obscene, and because there are no quality
controls or any guide to quality, it is difficult for searchers
to take information retrieved from the Internet at face value"
It concluded that the Internet "will not become
a serious tool for professional searchers until the quality issues
Ciolek (1996a, p. 107) has argued that if the WWW
is to continue to be of use to scholars and the research community
quality issues will have to be confronted:
"Our greatest folly seems to be our willingness
to cultivate this global communication system, open to all and
sundry, without first ensuring that we have enough useful and
trustworthy, accurate and timely information to be circulated
across such a networked behemoth".
Ciolek is the editor of the Information Quality WWW Virtual Library (Ciolek, ed. 1996b) based at the Coombs Computing Unit of the Australian National University in Canberra. This WWW site gives access to information on quality issues and the Internet, and the unit administers a electronic mailing list called Information-Quality-L which acts as a centre for the world-wide exchange of ideas on Internet quality.
Quality is a diverse concept and has been applied to many things. In management science it is applied to products, services and the process of management itself in TQM. With information, we are mostly concerned with product quality - ensuring that a product, whether it be a journal, electronic database or WWW page, fulfil an agreed set of criteria. Additionally, however, information providers might have some interest in service quality with its emphasis on the expectations and requirements of the customer or user and their fulfilment.
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