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/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/surprise_package_172641.pngA musician ordered Westinghouse TV from Amazon (actually, a third party provider but via Amazon’s website. You get the picture). Some of you probably did that yourself over the holidays. He anxiously waited for the big box to arrive. Instead, a much smaller box appeared on his doorstop. Hmmm. Perhaps this is a single component for the TV? Cables or a stand? Reasonable guesses.

Nope. Not a TV. A black, semiautomatic gun. Imagine the surprise! Thankfully, the Washington, D.C. musician did the right thing and called law enforcement. However, the situation prompts a number of questions:

  • How does a TV equal a gun? Not only is the item different, but the size is different, the supplier is different, the price is different, the description is different, and the category is different.
  • Was any paperwork checked for the owner of the gun? State-specific permits? Felonies? Background check?
  • Has the product transported like a TV (just left of the doorstep), or like a gun? Guns cannot even be directly shipped to an individual without a Federal Firearms License.
  • How do you return a gun via mail, when you ordered a TV? According to the article, the gun could not be transported by car in Washington, D.C., so law enforcement had to take possession of the gun.

What does any of this have to do with information governance? Obviously, we can never totally get rid of human error; however, a few best practices may have helped:

  • Monitoring critical information elements: The business process relies on high quality information, which requires you to conduct system checks along the business process for both consistent information values (price, description, supplier, category)  and perhaps even information values vs. physical attributes (size and weight). I talked to one customer that was checking attributes against physical attributes, and found that the attributes in the system were for fully assembled items, not the item as packed. Imagine the impact of those dimensions differences on your shipping plan!
  • Root cause analysis: Someone is liable for sending the product to the customer’s door. In this case, the product is subject to both federal and local restrictions. Coordination may be required between varying agencies (local and federal), suppliers (manufacturer, distributor, seller), and shipper. These different groups need to share data and business processes to determine why the error occurred. When? Have like errors happened with any degree of frequency? Tracking down critical business process information is a core competency of an information governance program.
  • SLA compliance: The seller and distributor should be checking how many items have been returned due to the wrong item being picked. Acceptable thresholds should be agreed upon, set, and monitored. Distributors should be penalized when acceptable thresholds are not met.

Having a robust business process in place is not enough, as the process depends on trusted information. Make sure you are discussing how your information process (and your information governance team) support your business processes. And allow for some human error along the way.

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