The Information Quality (IQ) graduate programs at UA Little Rock are designed to prepare students for the rapidly growing field of information quality by providing a comprehensive education of theory alongside industry-standard training. Students may choose from a graduate certificate in IQ, Master of Science in IQ, or a Doctor of Philosophy in computer and information sciences.
According to the IQ program page, the programs are “designed to prepare students to pursue a variety of IQ careers such as Chief Data Officer, Information Quality Manager, Director of Data Governance, Data Steward, Information Quality Analyst, and Data Scientist, or to pursue doctoral-level graduate studies in preparation for information quality research and instructional roles.”
Dr. John Talburt, coordinator and advisor for the IQ graduate programs, is a leading researcher in his field and an award-winning faculty member. He is known for helping students not only on their academic paths, but also with establishing thriving careers.
Talburt relates the information quality field to the manufacturing industry. In manufacturing, total quality management was a revolution, propelling Toyota to be the world’s leader in automobile production. “[In a manufacturing process] you take in the raw material, you manufacture a product, and you try to embed quality in all the processes that produce that product,” Talburt explained.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) IQ program was based around thinking of information systems like factories. “So your raw materials coming in are data coming in. Instead of machinery you have programs. Then the key element is to think about what comes out of your information system as a product … If you think of it that way, you can apply all the principles of manufacturing quality to information quality production,” Talburt said.
By following the paradigms developed in total quality management, the program focuses on how to create high quality information products from a system. The program also has a business focus, considering implementation of quality programs in information technology are management issues. “There is a lot of project management associated with carrying out these improvement projects … and there is a lot of change management, and here I mean organizational change – getting people to think about data as an asset, getting them to think about their responsibility, and what we call data stewardship – taking care of data that’s in their possession; so, it touches on a lot of management issues as well as technology issues.”
The information quality graduate program began at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as a joint venture with MIT and Acxiom. In 1998, while Talburt was working with Acxiom, the company became interested in data quality and asked him to guide them on how it worked. So Talburt did the exact thing that many of us do when we are trying to learn something new – he looked it up online.
“The first thing that comes up is MIT and a guy named Richard Wang, who is the director of the MIT data quality program. So we reached out to him,” Talbert said. Soon after Wang came to Arkansas to talk about MIT’s program, a total data quality management program was implemented at Acxiom. While MIT had an information quality program, it was an executive-outreach training program. Wang wanted a real degree program.
Dr. Mary Goode, founding dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology, was on the Acxiom board. Between Goode, Charles Morgan (leader of Acxiom at the time), and Wang, the idea of starting an information quality graduate program at UA Little Rock began. Talburt had been at UA Little Rock before as the chair of computer science and was recruited back in 2005, when he immediately began developing the curriculum. Training material contributed by MIT was converted to courses, and the program was approved by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education in April 2006. By Fall 2006, they had their first cohort of students. By 2007, all of the courses offered in the MSIQ went online. Today, all IQ graduate programs are offered completely online through UA Little Rock Online.
In a rapidly growing world of data, Talburt embraces change within the field.
“This is an evolving thing,” he said. “It changes all the time. The program is much different now than it was [at the beginning]. Most of the courses have the same title, but their content [and tools] has changed dramatically…. We are now using the big data tools. Data quality in the era of big data is more important than ever. There’s been a big emphasis now on data governance. [Dr. Elizabeth Pierce] teaches a course on that called data information quality policy and strategy, and that’s been huge.
“We’ve got great support from industry as well. SAS has donated the use of their data quality tool called data flux for us to use. We use that in our classes. Collibra, which is the leading data governing software company, allows access for all of our students to Collibra Academy for getting hands on experience with data governance tools ….”
The MIT information quality conference has been hosted at UA Little Rock three times, most recently in October 2017. Graduates of the IQ graduate program can be found at a variety of corporations including Bloomberg, USAA, Google, IBM, and VISA. “The graduates have very good employment. We’re kind of in the data science, data age. Matter of fact, we had a job fair just recently in association with an IQ conference, and one of the companies there, it was actually USAA insurance, told me later, they said ‘This is the only college where we go and recruit that students know data quality is, and what data governance programs are about.’ … These are things that are very important now in the new data driven economy, so it’s really boosting our program,” Talburt said.
Although the IQ graduate programs accommodate students of diverse backgrounds, Talburt does have recommendations for those without related experience.
“Even though we’re very welcoming, [students] should also understand they do have to take these courses on systems analysis and database systems, and data visualization that require them to be able to do some level of minor programming or at least using tools,” Talburt said. “We recommend [that] if they are going to get into any languages to use either Java or now very popular Python. It’s very accessible to learn Python now as well … They really need to have some acquaintance with programming, database, and also statistics.” Talburt said students can find a number of resources online for training and understanding of these concepts.