Saturday, September 1, 2012

Why Data Quality is Like Shaving

Maintaining data quality is like shaving. That thought hit me early yesterday morning whilst I was doing it - shaving, that is, not maintaining data quality! Here's why.

A few things that most of us know about shaving and probably also know about data quality:

  1. It's not much use if you just do it once. You've got to keep at it every day.
  2. If you don't do it for a while you can still get back to a good state, it just might take a bit longer and be a bit uncomfortable for a while.
  3. Sometimes there's blood!
  4. Convincing someone who's never thought of data quality as important that they should do something about it is as hard as convincing someone who has had a beard for 20 years that they should shave it off.

And here are a few things that might not be quite so obvious about shaving (and about data quality undertakings):

  1. If you don't do it most people won't notice nor care. But a few people who are really important to you might treat you differently and not give you what you want. Just ask my wife!
  2. A little is good. Do a bit more and many people around you might look at you strangely but chances are the extra you did will pay you back many times over one day when you least expect it. Just ask a cyclist who has had to apply sticky bandages to his legs after a fall if it's easier with or without hair on his legs!
  3. Doing it everywhere you possibly can is probably a wasted effort (and just a little bit creepy!) And if you must do it everywhere, then some areas will definitely need more caution during the exercise (refer to item 3 in the first list!)
  4. The longer you've been around the more places you'll have to pay attention to. At 25 we all laughed at people with ear and nose hair, but it comes to us all in time. That data you've got hanging around from the time it was "faster" to work in spreadsheets will start showing eventually!
  5. Shaving gives you the chance to take a good look at yourself in the mirror everyday, often without any of your imperfections covered up. Maintaining data quality calls for the same regular scrutiny and openness.

And here's the biggest thing most people will immediately accept about shaving and should accept about data quality too:

Chances are you're not going to ask someone from your internal hairdressing department to keep you clean-shaven. It will work far better if you take care of that yourself. Data quality's no different. It's your beard and it's your data!

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