Any business that collects personal data has to be responsible, accurate and law-abiding. There are myriad laws and regulations around the collection of personal information; for example, the Data Protection Act forbids certain types of data from being shared without permission, and it also gives individuals power to demand to know what information you hold about them.
Setting legal issues aside, there are a number of practical and financial incentives to ensuring that data you hold is accurate. If you run a small or medium sized enterprise (SME), you might never have considered tidying up your database, but the benefits of data cleansing apply equally to companies of all sizes. In fact, small businesses could feel the cost advantage far more markedly than a larger enterprise.
Why Cleanse Your Data?
When we talk about ‘clean’ data, we’re basically referring to data that’s been scanned, corrected and possibly enhanced by a third party tool. There are many reasons for tidying up a database, and these tend to become more pronounced as the dataset grows in size.
- The environmental impact of a mail shot is reduced if the mailing list is clean. This helps to promote a positive brand image.
- In some cases, unwanted mail isn’t just a nuisance – it can be genuinely distressing. By cleaning their database at regular intervals, companies can avoid sending mail to people who have asked not to be contacted, such as the families of people who have died.
- Data cleansing can be used alongside a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, helping you to maintain a more accurate record of your clients and leads in a convenient electronic format. In turn, this data filters through to cloud applications and integrated software, keeping your entire business up to date. (Read more about CRM data quality).
- Clean data inevitably offers a better ROI in business. Consider a typical postal mail shot: fewer misspelled addresses means less money spent on post that will never arrive.
For small businesses, a penny saved is a penny earned. There’s a cost involved in data cleansing and deduplication, but a cleaner mailing list will pay dividends over the long term.
How Data Is Cleansed
Data cleansing is carried out by specialist companies with an armory of data quality tools at their disposal. Different methods are suitable for different databases, but many businesses will use one of the following four solutions.
- Software applications scan databases for likely matches. Users can set the software to scan specific fields, or even scan for words that sound the same but are spelled differently.
- Data can be cleansed when it is initially captured. DQ Global provides businesses with an application programming interface (API) that hooks the power of data cleansing into another application.
- Add-ons and plugins are able to scan simple flat file databases stored as spreadsheets. This is a particularly good option for small business that may not yet have a complex database in place.
- Solutions are available to scan email marketing lists – a handy way to avoid being reported as a spammer.
Whichever method you choose, data cleansing services are rarely intrusive; if your computer hardware is up to it, millions of records can be scanned in a matter of hours.