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Don’t Be Daunted By Data Quality

Martin Doyle March 19th, 2014 Data Quality
daunted by data

If you haven’t got around to dealing with your data quality challenges, fear not. You’re not alone. Businesses of all sizes are slowly facing up to the fact that data decay is inevitable, and data quality software is an essential tool for any successful business.

Many small businesses are learning from the mistakes made by larger businesses and public sector organisations, and many of those mistakes have been reported in the press for all to see. In one way, this is useful, because it’s a sign of things to come. Data is so vital in modern life that poor data quality can be catastrophic for millions of people, and the sooner we realise, the sooner we can face the challenge head on.

Bigger Data Problems

In February 2013, MPs told the Ministry of Defence that it was at risk of squandering a £1 billion investment in IT because of dire data quality. We see this time and again; large organisations plough money into projects that should make information management easier, but the data flowing through the system is not of a high enough standard to make investment worthwhile.

Likewise, the NHS has a track record of considerable IT challenges and failures. Computerising the healthcare records of an entire country is clearly no mean feat, yet poor data quality could affect patient care for decades to come, so it is something we must get right. At a grass roots level, neglecting data quality almost certainly changes the services available in any given area, since it is impossible for healthcare professionals to make informed decisions or analyse existing care. On a smaller scale, poor quality data influences the quality of care all individuals in the system receive.

The NHS was in the news in January this year because of concerns about data mismanagement; reports claimed that the NHS was dishing out data without consent. This may have included names and addresses extracted from GPs’ databases; the data was being sold for studies and uploaded to third party cloud storage services. The NHS is working towards a centralised patient care record called Care.data – a kind of single customer view for healthcare professionals, but it has problems recalling exactly who has all of this patient information already, suggesting it has bigger problems to solve.

One fifth of NHS trusts say that waiting lists are growing because of a failure to deal with data quality issues. This is a very unfortunate, very timely example of a data quality problem that could filter down and affect us all when we are most vulnerable.

Lessons Learned

Richard Bacon MP makes an excellent point in relation to the Ministry of Defence and its data quality challenge: “Any system is only as good as the information put into it.” The same applies to a small business concerned about data quality in its customer relationship management (CRM) systems; the system is a framework to channel the data; the data must be accurate, complete and free of errors.

While the Ministry of Defence and the NHS have daunting data problems, small businesses can learn valuable lessons about how data must be managed: deduplicated, scanned for errors, corrected, monitored and nurtured. Only then will we realise the full power of the IT systems we all invest in.


Written by Martin Doyle

Martin is CEO and founder of DQ Global, a Data Quality Software company based in the UK. With an engineering background, Martin previously ran a CRM Software business. He has gained a wealth of knowledge and experience over the years and has established himself as a Data Quality Improvement Evangelist and an industry expert.