Monday, August 29, 2011

Top Ten Root Causes of Data Quality Problems: Part Three

Part 3 of 5: Secret Code and Corporate Evolution
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
  • Downsizing
If data quality is defined as “fitness for purpose,” what happens when the purpose changes? It’s these new data uses that bring about changes in perceived level of data quality even though underlying data is the same. It’s natural for data to change.  As it does, the data quality rules, business rules and data integration layers must also change.

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.

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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.