Monday, May 19, 2008

Unusual Data Quality Problems

When I talk to folks who are struggling with data quality issues, there are some who are worried that they have data unlike any data anyone has ever seen. Often there’s a nervous laugh in the voice as if the data is so unusual and so poor that an automated solution can’t possibly help.

Yes, there are wide variations in data quality and consistency and it might be unlike any we’ve seen. On the other hand, we’ve seen a lot of unusual data over the years. For example:

  • A major motorcycle manufacturer used data quality tools to pull out nicknames from their customer records. Many of the names they had acquired for their prospect list were from motorcycle events and contests where the entries were, shall we say, colorful. The name fields contained data like “John the Mad Dog Smith” or “Frank Motor-head Jones”. The client used the tool to separate the name from the nickname, making it a more valuable marketing list.
  • One major utility company used our data quality tools to identify and record notations on meter-reader records that were important to keep for operational uses, but not in the customer billing record. Upon analysis of the data, the company noticed random text like “LDIY" and "MOR" along with the customer records. After some investigation, they figured out that LDIY meant “Large Dog in Yard” which was particularly important for meter readers. MOR meant “Meter in Right, which was also valuable. The readers were given their own notes field, so that they could maintain the integrity of the name and address while also keeping this valuable data. IT probably saved a lot of meter readers from dog bite situations.
  • Banks have used our data quality tools to separate items like "John and Judy Smith/221453789 ITF George Smith". The organization wanted to consider this type of record as three separate records "John Smith" and "Judy Smith" and "George Smith" with obvious linkage between the individuals. This type of data is actually quite common on mainframe migrations.
  • A food manufacturer standardizes and cleanses ingredient names to get better control of manufacturing costs. In data from their worldwide manufacturing plants, an ingredient might be “carrots” “chopped frozen carrots” “frozen carrots, chopped” “chopped carrots, frozen” and so on. (Not to mention all the possible abbreviations for the words carrots, chopped and frozen.) Without standardization of these ingredients, there was really no way to tell how many carrots the company purchased worldwide. There was no bargaining leverage with the carrot supplier, and all the other ingredient suppliers, until the data was fixed.

Not all data quality solutions can handle all of these types of anomalies. They will pass these "odd" values without attempting to cleanse them. It’s key to have a system that will learn from your data and allow you to develop business rules that meet the organization’s needs.

Now there are times, quite frankly, when data gets so bad, that automated tools can do nothing about it, but that’s where data profiling comes in. Before you attempt to cleanse or migrate data, you should profile it to have a complete understanding of it. This will let you weigh the cost of fixing very poor data against the value that it will bring to the organization.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Best Books on Data Governance

Is there a comprehensive book on data governance that we should all read to achieve success? At the time of this post, I'm not sure there is. I haven't seen it yet. If you think about it, such a book would make War and Peace look like a Harlequin novel in terms of book size in order to cover the all aspects of the topic. Instead, we really must become students of data governance and begin to understand large knowledge areas such as 1) how to optimize and manage processes; 2) how to manage teams and projects; 3) public relations and marketing for internal project promotion; and 4) how to implement technologies to achieve data governance, just to name a few.

I’ve recently added an Amazon widget to my blog that lists some printed books on data governance-related topics. The books cover the four areas I’ve mentioned. As summer vacation arrives, now is the time to buy your books for the beach and read up! After all, what could be more relaxing on a July afternoon than a big frozen margarita and the book “Business Process Improvement: The Breakthrough Strategy for Total Quality, Productivity, and Competitiveness” by James Harrington?

The Amazon affiliate program generates just a few pennies for each book, but what money it does generate will be donated to charity. The appeal of the Amazon widget is that it's a good way to store a list of books and provide direct links to buy. If you have some suggestions to add to the list, please share them.

EDIT: My book on data governance is now available on Amazon. The Data Governance Imperative.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Data Governance Structure and Organization Webinar

My colleague Jim Orr just did a great job delivering a webinar on data governance. You can see a replay of the webinar in case you missed it. Jim is our Data Quality Practice Leader and he has a very positive point of view when it comes to developing a successful data governance strategy.
In this webinar, Jim talks exclusively about the structure and the organization behind data governance. If you believe that data governance is people, process and technology, this webinar covers the "people" side of the equation.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer. The material written here is copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Sarsfield. To request permission to reuse, please e-mail me.