Wednesday, January 26, 2011

IAIDQ Blog carnival for Information/Data Quality, December 2010

It's my pleasure and privilege to again be hosting the IAIDQ blog carnival, this time for posts made in December 2010. I'm glad to say that the festivities didn't reduce the flow of top quality posts, some of which I have highlighted here.

If you work in business and you're attempting to get a data quality initiative off the ground, William Sharp, over at the Data Quality Chronicle, has outlined a data quality program's 10 best practices. A useful checklist whatever your data quality background.

Jim Harris' steady stream of wisdom over at the Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality Blog hardly let up in December, with a look back at the best data quality posts of 2010 (which I have to mention, because Jim kindly included not one but two of mine in the list!).

I've been thinking (probably rather more than is healthy) quite a lot recently about data silos, and Jim casts his usual sensible eye over just that subject when discussing The Good Data.

I don't know where Jim finds the time to read, but he's read "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole and he discusses our propensity to delete data in A Confederacy of Data Defects.

And finally, whilst Jim was looking back over 2011, Steve Sarsfield, in his data governance and data quality insider blog, was looking forward to 2011. The brave Steve has made six data management predictions for 2011. I'm wondering if that's a misprint - won't be be waiting until 2051 for most of those things to happen? ;-) What do you think?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The myth of deliverability.

I am often asked whether an address is "deliverable", and not everybody is happy with my usual response that it depends on the mood of the postal staff on duty that day.

The point is that "deliverability" is unmeasurable, unscientific and has little basis in reality. Address validation software will often give a figure for the number of deliverable addresses within a file, such as 80%, but don't be fooled - this does not mean that, if you send a letter to each address within that file, 80% will get there and 20% will not. These numbers have been created to give some sort of feedback to the user, and to make files comparable with each other when run through the same software processes.

So how come there's no way to measure deliverability?

You could look at a country like The Netherlands, with its neat address system, and boldly state that a deliverable address is one where the postal code and the building number are present. Mind you, if either contain a typo, the mail may be deliverable, but not to the desired recipient. Equally, whilst TNT Post is happy with that much information, because it will get them to a letter box, to make a mailpiece deliverable to a person, more information is required - a sub-building indicator (as many addresses may share the same house number/postal code), a name, department and so on.

So, I've got all that. So the address is deliverable. Right?

A mailpiece containing my correct postal code and house number took 6 months to reach me. Not because the information was wrong, but because a second, stray, postal code had wormed its way into the address block, sending the mailpiece around the system ad infinitum. It was only when a particularly awake postal worker saw and crossed through the stray code that the mailpiece could get sent on its (correct) way.

But not having a full address, or even any address, does not make a mailpiece undeliverable! I remember the TV program That's Life! on the BBC successfully receiving mail sent with just a drawing of a prominent set of teeth on the front - an allusion to Esther Rantzen's somewhat toothy smile.

This Christmas a card was sent with this address on it:

Mr & Mrs T Burlingham?
Near the golf course in Thetford,
Trevor is a photographer. This might help

It did help. This undeliverable address took just 2 days to arrive. But this isn't just a British thing. How about one of my favourites:


Vukasin 6 years and Jelisaveta 3 years
I don't know the family name
Their father is big, he drives a Citro├źn Belingo.
He works on the little trains for tourists.
Postman: Please find them!

And he did!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Praise for a form

You know that I have a thing about forms, and I spend a lot of time criticising them. But I did always said that if I found an example of a good form, I'd sing its praises on high.

So, this is me singing.

The form is not an international form - it's for the Dutch market and is in Dutch - but is shows some good practices that I'd like to highlight. The form is from ShopPartners .

Dutch addresses are of the few in the world where a whole address can be derived from very little information - in our case a postal code and a house number - and the form starts by asking for that information to save the customer from typing their whole address - and the less you make your customer type, the happier they are. They show very clearly the number of steps you'll have to go through to order, and the section to the right gives clear examples of what they want should there be any doubt in the mind of the customer.

The second step expands the form with the address autocompleted. Nothing earth shattering there.

The form asks whether the customer is a private individual or a business - a great way of preventing customers from having to fill in or skip over fields which are not relevant to them, such as VAT numbers.

But what did make me smile - no, it made me get up and jig around my office - was that this is the first Dutch form I have come across which does not ask your form of address (Mr or Mrs - no other choices are given) and use it to assume your gender. Somebody has thought about this, and apart from Mr and Mrs the customer can also specify a department name or the name of a family. Still no chance for me to add Dr, Professor, Lord, Sir, Dipl. Ing., Mag. or any other one of the hundreds of forms of address that exist; but I do get the change to choose NONE (my own preference) - an escape route for customers not covered by the options provided - and this is rarely allowed on forms.

And again, descriptive examples of what is required are provided to the right of the fields.

Now, plenty of usability experts will pull me up and mention element placement, colours and numerous other "problems" with this form, but for me it's a huge step forward! Well done ShopPartners!

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