Friday, October 30, 2009

Informatica and form rage

Dear reader,

you'll know by now that the best way to achieve data quality is not by cleansing data after it has been collected - that's just an expensive way of mitigating the effects of poor data quality. You'll know that preventing data quality issues at source is a more effective and ultimately more cost effective way to manage data quality.

There are hundreds of thousands of companies who continue to attempt reactive data quality cleansing rather than instigating preventative data quality, and that won't change in the short (or even middle) term; but when you're a company working within the data quality sphere you have to be very careful about how you manage your own data quality, because if you don't ne'er do wells such as myself will be quick to pick up on it.

Informatica, a data quality company, posted a white paper - about data quality - here, and included with it a web form guaranteed to collect the worst quality data imaginable. (To me, a white paper is not free if I am expected to provide my information (which has value) in exchange for it - but that's another blog post ...). Now, don't get me wrong - I have nothing again Informatica as a company - they just seem (on this evidence) to have reached the size and structure which has stopped them being able to concentrate on data quality in all parts of their company, and with too many employees not understanding, or being part of, the data quality focus.

A quick look at the form and we can see some of the issues. Though I am allowed to enter data from my address in The Netherlands, I am forced to add an American state (or a Canadian province or territory) with which to pollute Informatica's data. The field labels suggest that my name is written in the same way as that of most Americans, that is given name first, family name last, and if I don't have a family name I'll have to make one up, because I can't leave that empty. I must add a postal code, even if my country doesn't have one, and though they have managed correctly to lose "Serbia and Montenegro" from their country list, they have lost Montenegro in the process.

When I pointed these errors out to Informatica they promised to recreate their forms, and they may be so doing; but it shouldn't take 15 days to stop a web form "State" field being a required field, one of the most obvious and widespread errors any web form can make, and the cause of more form rage than anything else. I hope they manage to get it sorted before next Tuesday, when I am presenting about web forms to the DDMA in Amsterdam - I'd like to be able to show a success story.

So, dear reader, do yourself a favour. Prevent your data becoming polluted at source. Look at your web forms. I'll make it easy for you - download my free e-book "Better data quality from your web form - Effective international name and address Internet data collection" and learn how to avoid those common errors. And I don't even ask you to fill in a form to get it ...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Data quality definitions: fit for purpose?

As data quality professionals, some of us spend far too much time philosophising, particularly about how to define the term "Data quality".

Some professionals, particularly those in a business environment, define data quality as data which is fit for purpose. To me, far from clarifying, this definition throws up far too many new questions. Fit in what way, and for which purpose? Fit for my purpose or for his? Or both? Fit for the purpose I have now or those I may have in the future?

I don't like chain definitions, phrases that becomed defined by new phrases which themselves have to be defined - for example data quality = information quality = fit for purpose = ... This simply obfuscates the issues and moves us away from their core.

I also think we should avoid trying to attempt to bring definitions under umbrella terms when we are blessed with thousands of languages, each containing thousands of words, which can be used to define each issue. Instead of

"This data has no quality, because it doesn't help me do what I want to do"

wouldn't it be great if we said:

"The way this data has been provided to me is not fit for the purpose of calling all our customers as the telephone area code is not shown on the interface/printout"

without feeling we needed to park this under one or other defining phrase or buzz word?

After a couple of decades of intensive work with data, I firmly believe that data quality is an inherent property of the data itself and is not definable by what can be achieved with that data. But while I juggle with this issue in my head, I am open to other input. For me, data has quality if it is a true representation of the real world constructs to which it refers; being accurate, relevant, complete and up-to-date.

To me, if your data fulfils those criteria, there's nothing that can't be done with it and it could, if used properly, be fit for each and every purpose. In all my years working with data I've not found a case when this was not true.

Do YOU know of a case, real or imaginary, in which data that is accurate, relevant, complete and up-to-date would not be fit for each and every purpose? Note: we're talking about the data here, not information. If the data is not represented on your screen with the telephone area code, that's an information quality problem; but if the data is complete, relevant and up-to-date, the data will include the telephone area code which could therefore be used to make the information fit for purpose.

I'd love to hear of any examples! Leave a comment!