Saturday, November 12, 2011
Time Means Technology Will Improve
As time marches on, technology offers twists and turns to the data steward through innovation. 20 years ago, mainframes ruled the world. We’ve migrated through relational databases on powerful servers to a place where we see our immediate future in cloud and big data. As technology shifts, you must consider the impact of data.
The good news is that with these huge challenges, you also get access to new tools. In general, tools have become less arcane and more business-user focused as time marches on.
Time Causes People to Change
Like changes in technology, people also mature, change careers, retire. With regard to data management, the corporation must think about the expertise needed to complete the data mission. Data management must pass the “hit by a bus” test where the company would not suffer if one or more key people were to be hit by a Greyhound traveling from Newark to Richmond.
Here, time is requiring us to be more diligent in documenting our processes. It is requiring us to avoid undocumented hand-coding and pick a reproducible data management platform. It helps to have third-party continuity, like consultants who, although will also experience changes in personnel, will change on a different schedule than their clients.
Time Leads to Clarity in the Imperative of Data Management
With regard to data management, corporations have a maturity process they go through. They often start as chaotic immature organizations and realize the power of data management in a tactical maturity stage. Finally, they realize data management is a strategic initiative when they begin to govern the data. Throughout it all, people, process and technologies change.
Knowing where you are in this maturity cycle can help you plan where you want to go from here and what tactics you need to put in place to get there. For example, very few companies go from chaotic, ad hoc data management to full-blown MDM. For the most part, they get there through making little changes, seeing the positive impact of the little changes and wanting more. Rather, a chaotic organization might be more apt to evolve their data management maturity by consolidating two or more ERP systems and revel in its efficiency.
Time Prevents Us from Achieving Successful Projects
When it comes to specific projects, taking too much time can lead to failure in projects. In the not so distant past, circa 2007, the industry commonly took on massive, multi-year, multimillion dollar MDM projects. We now know that these projects are not the best way to manage data. Why? Think about how much your own company has changed in the last two years. If it is a dynamic, growing company, it likely has different goals, different markets, different partners and new leadership. The world has changed significantly, too. Today’s worldwide economy is so much different that even one year ago. (Have you heard about the recession and European debt crisis?) The goals of a project that you set up two years ago will never achieve success today.
Time makes us take an agile approach to data management. It requires that we pick off small portions of our problems, solve them, prove value and re-use what we’ve learned on the next agile project. Limit and hold scope to achieve success.
Time Achieves Corporate Growth (which is counter to data management)
Companies who are just starting out generally have fewer data management problems than those who are mature. Time pushes our data complexity deeper and deeper. Therefore time dictates that even small companies should have some sort of data management strategy. The good news is that now achievable with help from open source and lower cost data management solutions. Proper data management tools are affordable by both Fortune 1000 and small to medium-sized enterprises.
Time Holds Us Responsible
That said, the longer a corporation is in business, the longer it can be held responsible for lower revenue, decreased efficiency and lack of compliance due to poor data management. The company decides how it is going to govern (or not govern) data, what data is acceptable in the CRM and who is responsible for the mistakes that happen due to poor data management. The longer you are in business, the more responsible the corporation is for its governance. Time holds us responsible if the problems aren’t solved.
Time and Success Lead to Apathy
Finally, time often brings us success in data management. With success, there is a propensity for corporations to take the eye off the prize and spend monies on more pressing issues. Time and success can lead to a certain apathy, believing that the data management problem is solved. But, as time marches on, new partners, new data sources, new business processes. Time requires us to be ever vigilant in our efforts to manage data.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
In this continuing series, we're looking at root causes of data quality problems and the business processes you can put in place to solve them. Companies rely on data to make significant decisions that can affect customer service, regulatory compliance, supply chain and many other areas. As you collect more and more information about customers, products, suppliers, transactions and billing, you must attack the root causes of data quality.
Root Cause Number Nine: Defining Data Quality
More and more companies recognize the need for data quality, but there are different ways to clean data and improve data quality. You can:
- Write some code and cleanse manually
- Handle data quality within the source application
- Buy tools to cleanse data
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Standardize Tools – Whenever possible, choose tools that aren’t tied to a particular solution. Having data quality only in SAP, for example, won’t help your Oracle, Salesforce and MySQL data sets. When picking a solution, select one that is capable of accessing any data, anywhere, at any time. It shouldn't cost you a bundle to leverage a common solution across multiple platforms and solutions.
- Data Governance – By setting up a cross-functional data governance team, you will have the people in place to define a common data model.
Root Cause Number Ten: Loss of Expertise
On almost every data intensive project, there is one person whose legacy data expertise is outstanding. These are the folks who understand why some employee date of hire information is stored in the date of birth field and why some of the name attributes also contain tax ID numbers.
Data might be a kind of historical record for an organization. It might have come from legacy systems. In some cases, the same value in the same field will mean a totally different thing in different records. Knowledge of these anomalies allows experts to use the data properly.
If you encounter this situation, there are some business processes you can follow.
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Profile and Monitor – Profiling the data will help you identify most of these types of issues. For example, if you have a tax ID number embedded in the name field, analysis will let you quickly spot it. Monitoring will prevent a recurrence.
- Document – Although they may be reluctant to do so for fear of losing job security, make sure experts document all of the anomalies and transformations that need to happen every time the data is moved.
- Use Consultants – Expert employees may be so valuable and busy that there is no time to document the legacy anomalies. Outside consulting firms are usually very good at documenting issues and providing continuity between legacy and new employees.
This post is an excerpt from a white paper available here. More to come on this subject in the days ahead.
- Part One: The Basics
- Part Two: Renegades and Pirates
- Part Three: Secret Code and Corporate Evolution
- Part Four: Data Flow
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
In this continuing series, we're looking at root causes of data quality problems and the business processes you can put in place to solve them. In part four, we examine some of the areas involving the pervasive nature of data and how it flows to and fro within an organization.
Root Cause Number Seven: Transaction Transition
More and more data is exchanged between systems through real-time (or near real-time) interfaces. As soon as the data enters one database, it triggers procedures necessary to send transactions to other downstream databases. The advantage is immediate propagation of data to all relevant databases.
However, what happens when transactions go awry? A malfunctioning system could cause problems with downstream business applications. In fact, even a small data model change could cause issues.
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Schema Checks – Employ schema checks in your job streams to make sure your real-time applications are producing consistent data. Schema checks will do basic testing to make sure your data is complete and formatted correctly before loading.
- Real-time Data Monitoring – One level beyond schema checks is to proactively monitor data with profiling and data monitoring tools. Tools like the Talend Data Quality Portal and others will ensure the data contains the right kind of information. For example, if your part numbers are always a certain shape and length, and contain a finite set of values, any variation on that attribute can be monitored. When variations occur, the monitoring software can notify you.
Root Cause Number Eight: Metadata Metamorphosis
Metadata repository should be able to be shared by multiple projects, with audit trail maintained on usage and access. For example, your company might have part numbers and descriptions that are universal to CRM, billing, ERP systems, and so on. When a part number becomes obsolete in the ERP system, the CRM system should know. Metadata changes and needs to be shared.
In theory, documenting the complete picture of what is going on in the database and how various processes are interrelated would allow you to completely mitigate the problem. Sharing the descriptions and part numbers among all applicable applications needs to happen. To get started, you could then analyze the data quality implications of any changes in code, processes, data structure, or data collection procedures and thus eliminate unexpected data errors. In practice, this is a huge task.
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Predefined Data Models – Many industries now have basic definitions of what should be in any given set of data. For example, the automotive industry follows certain ISO 8000 standards. The energy industry follows Petroleum Industry Data Exchange standards or PIDX. Look for a data model in your industry to help.
- Agile Data Management – Data governance is achieved by starting small and building out a process that first fixes the most important problems from a business perspective. You can leverage agile solutions to share metadata and set up optional processes across the enterprise.
This post is an excerpt from a white paper available here. My final post on this subject in the days ahead.
Monday, August 29, 2011
In this continuing series, we're looking at root causes of data quality problems and the business processes you can put in place to solve them. In part three, we examine secret code and corporate evolution as two of the root causes for data quality problems.
Root Cause Number Five: Corporate Evolution
Change is good… except for data quality
An organizations undergoes business process change to improve itself. Good, right? Prime examples include:
- Company expansion into new markets
- New partnership deals
- New regulatory reporting laws
- Financial reporting to a parent company
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Data Governance – By setting up a cross-functional data governance team, you will always have a team who will be looking at the changes your company is undergoing and considering its impact on information. In fact, this should be in the charter of a data governance team.
- Communication – Regular communication and a well-documented metadata model will make the process of change much easier.
- Tool Flexibility – One of the challenges of buying data quality tools embedded within enterprise applications is that they may not work in ALL all enterprise applications. When you choose tools, make sure they are flexible enough to work with data from any application and that the company is committed to flexibility and openness.
Root Cause Number Six: Secret Code
Databases rarely start begin their life empty. The starting point is typically a data conversion from some previously existing data source. The problem is that while the data may work perfectly well in the source application, it may fail in the target. It’s difficult to see all the custom code and special processes that happen beneath the data unless you profile.
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Profile Early and Often – Don’t assume your data is fit for purpose because it works in the source application. Profiling will give you an exact evaluation of the shape and syntax of the data in the source. It also will let you know how much work you need to do to make it work in the target.
- Corporate Standards - Data governance will help you define corporate standards for data quality.
- Apply Reusable Data Quality Tools When Possible – Rather than custom code in the application, a better strategy is to let data quality tools apply standards. Data quality tools will apply corporate standards in a uniform way, leading to more accurate sharing of data.
This post is an excerpt from a white paper available here. The final posts on this subject will come in the days ahead.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
In this continuing series, we're looking at root causes of data quality problems and the business processes you can put in place to solve them. In part two, we examine IT renegades and corporate pirates as two of the root causes for data quality problems.
Root Cause Number Three: Renegade IT and Spreadmarts
A renegade is a person who deserts and betrays an organizational set of principles. That’s exactly what some impatient business owners unknowingly do by moving data in and out of business solutions, databases and the like. Rather than wait for some professional help from IT, eager business units may decide to create their own set of local applications without the knowledge of IT. While the application may meet the immediate departmental need, it is unlikely to adhere to standards of data, data model or interfaces. The database might start by making a copy of a sanctioned database to a local application on team desktops. So-called “spreadmarts,” which are important pieces of data stored in Excel spreadsheets, are easily replicated to team desktops. In this scenario, you lose control of versions as well as standards. There are no backups, versioning or business rules.
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Corporate Culture – There should be a consequence for renegade data, making it more difficult for the renegades to create local data applications.
- Communication – Educate and train your employees on the negative impact of renegade data.
- Sandbox – Having tools that can help business users and IT professionals experiment with the data in a safe environment is crucial. A sandbox, where users are experimenting on data subsets and copies of production data, has proven successful for many for limiting renegade IT.
- Locking Down the Data – A culture where creating unsanctioned spreadmarts is shunned is the goal. Some organizations have found success in locking down the data to make it more difficult to export.
Root Cause Number Four: Corporate Mergers
Corporate mergers increase the likelihood for data quality errors because they usually happen fast and are unforeseen by IT departments. Almost immediately, there is pressure to consolidate and take shortcuts on proper planning. The consolidation will likely include the need to share data among a varied set of disjointed applications. Many shortcuts are taken to “make it happen,” often involving known or unknown risks to the data quality.
On top of the quick schedule, merging IT departments may encounter culture clash and a different definition of truth. Additionally, mergers can result in a loss of expertise when key people leave midway through the project to seek new ventures.
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Corporate Awareness – Whenever possible civil division of labor should be mandated by management to avoid culture clashes and data grabs by the power hungry.
- Document – Your IT initiative should survive even if the entire team leaves, disbands or gets hit by a bus when crossing the street. You can do this with proper documentation of the infrastructure.
- Third-party Consultants – Management should be aware that there is extra work to do and that conflicts can arise after a merger. Consultants can provide the continuity needed to get through the transition.
- Agile Data Management – Choose solutions and strategies that will keep your organization agile, giving you the ability to divide and conquer the workload without expensive licensing of commercial applications.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
We all know data quality problems when we see them. They can undermine your organization’s ability to work efficiently, comply with government regulations and make revenue. The specific technical problems include missing data, misfielded attributes, duplicate records and broken data models to name just a few.
But rather than merely patching up bad data, most experts agree that the best strategy for fighting data quality issues is to understand the root causes and put new processes in place to prevent them. This five part blog series discusses the top ten root causes of data quality problems and suggests steps the business can implement to prevent them.
In this first blog post, we'll confront some of the more obvious root causes of data quality problems.
Root Cause Number One: Typographical Errors and Non-Conforming Data
Despite a lot of automation in our data architecture these days, data is still typed into Web forms and other user interfaces by people. A common source of data inaccuracy is that the person manually entering the data just makes a mistake. People mistype. They choose the wrong entry from a list. They enter the right data value into the wrong box.
Given complete freedom on a data field, those who enter data have to go from memory. Is the vendor named Grainger, WW Granger, or W. W. Grainger? Ideally, there should be a corporate-wide set of reference data so that forms help users find the right vendor, customer name, city, part number, and so on.
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Training – Make sure that those people who enter data know the impact they have on downstream applications.
- Metadata Definitions – By locking down exactly what people can enter into a field using a definitive list, many problems can be alleviated. This metadata (for vendor names, part numbers, and so on can) become part of data quality in data integration, business applications and other solutions.
- Monitoring – Make public the results of poorly entered data and praise those who enter data correctly. You can keep track of this with data monitoring software such as the Talend Data Quality Portal.
- Real-time Validation – In addition to forms, validation data quality tools can be implemented to validate addresses, e-mail addresses and other important information as it is entered. Ensure that your data quality solution provides the ability to deploy data quality in application server environments, in the cloud or in an enterprise service bus (ESB).
Root Cause Number Two: Information Obfuscation
Data entry errors might not be completely by mistake. How often do people give incomplete or incorrect information to safeguard their privacy? If there is nothing at stake for those who enter data, there will be a tendency to fudge.
Even if the people entering data want to do the right thing, sometimes they cannot. If a field is not available, an alternate field is often used. This can lead to such data quality issues as having Tax ID numbers in the name field or contact information in the comments field.
Root Cause Attack Plan
- Reward – Offer an incentive for those who enter personal data correctly. This should be focused on those who enter data from the outside, like those using Web forms. Employees should not need a reward to do their job. The type of reward will depend upon how important it is to have the correct information.
- Accessibility – As a technologist in charge of data stewardship, be open and accessible about criticism from users. Give them a voice when processes change requiring technology change. If you’re not accessible, users will look for quiet ways around your forms validation.
- Real-time Validation – In addition to forms, validation data quality tools can be implemented to validate addresses, e-mail addresses and other important information as it is entered.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Do you have big data? It’s difficult to know precisely whether you do because big data is vaguely defined. You may qualify for big data technology if you face hundreds of gigabytes of data, or it may hundreds or thousands of terabytes. The classification of “big data” is not strictly defined by data size, but other business processes, too. Your data management infrastructure needs to take into account factors like future data volumes, peaks and lulls in requirements, business requirements and much more.
Small and Medium-Sized Data
What about “small” and medium-sized data? For example, data from spreadsheet, the occasional flat file, leads from a trade show, and catalog data from vendors may be vital to your business processes. With a new industry focus on transparency, business user involvement and sharing of data, small data is a constant issue. Spreadsheets and flat files are the preferred method to share data today because most companies have some process for handling them. When you get these small to medium sized data sets, it is still necessary to:
- profile them
- integrate them into your relational database
- aggregate data from these sources, or extract only the vital parts
- apply data quality standards when necessary
- use them as part of a master data management (MDM) initiative
The Difference Goals of Big Data and Little Data
With big data, the concern is usually about your data management technology’s ability to handle massive quantities in order to provide you aggregates that are meaningful. You need solutions that will scale to meet your data management needs. However, handling small and medium data sets is more about short and long term costs. How can you quickly and easily integrate data without a lot of red tape, big license fees, pain and suffering.
Think about it. When you need to handle small and medium data, you have options:
- Hand-coding: Using hand-coding is sometimes faster than any solution and it still may be OK for ad-hoc, one off data integration. Once you find yourself hand-coding again and again, you’ll find yourself rethinking that strategy. Eventually managing all that code will waste time and cost you a bundle. If your data volumes grow, hand-coded quickly becomes obsolete due to lack of scaling. Hand-coding gets high marks on speed to value, but falters in sustainability and long-term costs.
- Open Source: Open source data management tools provide a quick way to get started, low overall costs and high sustainability. By just downloading and learning the tools, you’re on your way to getting data management done. The open source solutions may have some limitations on scalability, but most open source providers have low-cost commercial upgrades that meet these needs. In other words, it's easy to start today and leverage Hadoop and the Cloud if you need it later. Open source gets high marks on speed to value, sustainability and costs.
- Traditional Data Management Vendors: Small data is a tough issue for the mega-vendors. Even for 50K-100K records, the license cost in both the short term and long term could be prohibitive. The mega-vendor solutions do tend to scale well, making them sustainable at a cost. However mergers in the data management business do happen. The sustainability of a product can be affected by these mergers. Commercial vendors get respectable marks in speed to value and sustainability, but falter in high up-front costs and maintenance fees.
Monday, May 16, 2011
The term butterfly effect refers to the way a minor event – like the movement of a butterfly’s wing – can have a major impact on a complex system – like the weather. The movement of the butterfly wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, but it starts a chain of events: moving pollen through the air, which causes a gazelle to sneeze, which triggers a stampede of gazelles, which raises a cloud of dust, which partially blocks the sun, which alters the atmospheric temperature, which ultimately alters the path of a tornado on the other side of the world.
Enterprise data is equally susceptible to the butterfly effect. When poor quality data enters the complex system of enterprise data, even a small error – the transposed letters in a street address or part number – can lead to 1) revenue loss; 2) process inefficiency and; 3) failure to comply with industry and government regulations. Organizations depend on the movement and sharing of data throughout the organization, so the impact of data quality errors are costly and far reaching. Data issues often begin with a tiny mistake in one part of the organization, but the butterfly effect can produce far reaching results.
The Pervasiveness of Data
When data enters the corporate ecosystem, it rarely stays in one place. Data is pervasive. As it moves throughout a corporation, data impacts systems and business processes. The negative impact of poor data quality reverberates as it crosses departments, business units and cross-functional systems.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) - By standardizing customer data, you will be able to offer better, more personalized customer service. And you will be better able to contact your customers and prospects for cross-sell, up-sell, notification and services.
- ERP / Supply Chain Data- If you have clean data in your supply chain, you can achieve some tangible benefits. First, the company will have a clear picture about delivery times on orders because of a completely transparent supply chain. Next, you will avoid unnecessary warehouse costs by holding the right amount of inventory in stock. Finally, you will be able to see all the buying patterns and use that information when negotiating supply contracts.
- Orders / Billing System - If you have clean data in your billing systems, you can achieve the tangible benefits of more accurate financial reporting and correct invoices that reach the customer in a timely manner. An accurate bill not only leads to trust among workers in the billing department, but customer attrition rates will be lower if invoices are delivered accurately and on time.
- Data Warehouse - If you have standardized the data feeding into your data warehouse, you can dramatically improve business intelligence. Employees can access the data warehouse and be assured that the data they use for reports, analysis and decision making is accurate. Using the clean data in a warehouse can help you find trends, see relationships between data, and understand the competition in a new light.
Monday, May 9, 2011
This year I’m planning to attend the MIT IQ symposium again. I’m also one of the vice chairs of the event. The symposium is a July event in Boston that is a discussion and exchange of ideas about data quality between practitioners and academicians.
I return to this conference and participate in the planning every year because I think it’s one of the most important data quality events. The people here really do change the course of information management. On these hot summer days in Boston, government, healthcare and general business professionals collaborate on the latest updates about data quality. This event has the potential to dramatically change the world – the people, organizations, and governments who manage data. I’ve grown to really enjoy the combination of ground-breaking presentations, high ranking government officials, sharp consultants and MIT hallway chat that you find here.
If you have some travel budget, please consider joining me for this event.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
| || |
Metrics that the technologists use to fix data quality problems
7% of the e-mail attribute is blank. 12% of the e-mail attribute does not follow the standard e-mail syntax. 13% of our US mail addresses fail address validation.
Metrics business people use to make decisions about the data
9% of my contacts have invalid e-mails. 3% have both invalid e-mails and invalid addresses.
Metrics managers use to get a big picture
This customer data is good enough to use for a campaign.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
With the tough economy people are still cutting back on corporate spending. There is a sense of urgency to just get things done, and sometimes that can lead to hand-coding your own data integration, data quality or MDM functions. When you begin to develop your plan and strategies for data management, you have to think about all the hidden costs of getting solutions out-of-the-box versus building on your own.
Reusability is one key consideration. Using data management technologies that only plug into one system just doesn’t make sense. It’s difficult to get that re-usability with custom code, unless your programmers have high visibility into other projects. On the other hand, all tool vendors, even open source ones have pressure from their clients to support multiple databases and business solutions. Open source solutions are built to work in a wider variety of architectures. You can move your data management processes between JD Edwards and SAP and SalesForce, for example, with relative ease.
Indemnity is another consideration. What if something goes wrong with your home-grown solution after the chief architect leaves his job? Who are you going to call? If something goes wrong with your open source solution, you can turn to the community or call the vendor for support.
Long-term costs are yet another issue. Home-grown solutions have the tendency to start cheap and get more expensive as time goes on. It’s difficult to manage custom code, especially if it is poorly documented. You hire consultants to manage code. Eventually, you have to rip and replace and that can be costly.
You should consider your human resources, too. Does it make sense to have a team work on hand-coding database extractions and transformation, or would the total cost/benefit be better if you used an open source data integration tool? It might just free up some of your programmers to pursue more important, ROI-centric ventures.
If you’re thinking of cooking up your own technical solutions for data management, hoping to just get it done, think again. Your most economical solution might just be to leverage the community of experts and go with open source.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Q. Some people would say that data quality technology is mature and that the topic is sort of stale. Are there major changes happening in the data quality world today?
A. Probably the biggest over-arching change we see today is that the distinction between those managing data from the business standpoint and those managing the technical aspects of data quality is getting more and more blurry. It used to be that data quality was... read more