Nobody's Perfect

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By Elliot King

Elliot King
People of a certain age may remember the long-time marketing slogan for Ivory soap. Ivory was 99.44 percent pure (pure of what was left unsaid.) While it would be nice if our data could be 99.44 percent accurate--or better yet 100 percent accurate--that goal is simply impossible. Data degrades over time. Telephone numbers, physical and email addresses and so on that were correct today will not be correct tomorrow. Life happens and that changes your data.

So how good is good enough? The answer to that question is not a specific number or threshold. Instead, data must be good enough to meet the needs of the data users.

There are two ways to go about achieving that goal. The first option is to respond quickly when data users complain. This is the most common tactic and unfortunately both the most risky and the most costly. Faulty data can have a huge impact on business processes and that impact is generally not for the better. When those kinds of major hiccups occur, not only the data must be fixed but the disruption caused by the flawed data must be fixed.

A better strategy is to clearly understand the needs of data users and then work systematically to meet those needs. Let's consider a marketing campaign. How many of the records contain all the information needed to target and communicate with the intended audience? How many complaints from people who do not wish to receive your message do you receive? What are the mechanisms you have in place to address those concerns? Does your marketing database cover your market area efficiently? Similar sorts of criteria can be developed for other business processes that rely on data.

Once the needs are established, quality targets can be achieved. From that point, data quality becomes a real numbers game. How much does it cost to improve data to the point that it has a significant impact on a business process? At a certain level, incremental improvements are more costly than the gains they provide.

At the end of the day, data is good enough when it satisfies the needs of the users within a reasonable budget. And that is a goal you can achieve and is close to perfection.

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