Research shows data quality won’t take care of itself

Awareness of the importance of data quality is now universal among businesses, according to new research. But inaccurate information is equally rife within their data systems.


Experian QAS’s Data Advantage report for 2013 finds that 99 per cent of respondents in the UK, US and France now have some sort of data quality strategy in place, yet 94 per cent also say that their databases suffer from common errors, calling into question just what counts as a data strategy for most organisations. The errors encountered most often include incomplete or missing data, outdated information, duplicate data and typographical errors.

In itself, it isn’t too much of a surprise that companies are finding it difficult to keep databases clean – almost every database imaginable will contain some instances of the mistakes described. What’s more worrying is that the proportion of companies experiencing them is going up. The level was 92 per cent in 2012.

Most organisations are currently undergoing an expansion of the volume of data they process, so it could be argued that it’s the growing scale of their task that is causing them problems. It’s also possible that they are simply identifying more mistakes that previously went undetected, meaning their data quality capabilities are actually improving.

But both seem to be unlikely explanations, because organisations are also becoming less proactive in their monitoring. Survey respondents reported that they were much less likely than in 2011 to be taking steps to improve data quality, such as using dedicated front- or back-end software, measuring advertising response rates or carrying out spreadsheet analysis. It seems more likely that this is what’s pushing up the incidence of bad data.

It’s not as though companies aren’t aware of the negative impacts of this laxity. Nine out of 10 respondents say data inaccuracies cause them to waste budgets. Between a quarter and a third say they result in the loss of potential customers, reduced customer satisfaction and inefficient use of staff.

It’s easy to see how problems arise. Dedicated technology seems like a big investment, especially because it is infrastructure that doesn’t directly increase sales and because changing business requirements can make its obsolescence seem like a significant risk.

That’s fair enough, but many companies, quite plainly, are already pouring money down the drain through their inefficient existing data systems. At the very least, they need to be investing in talent and expertise to help them understand what technology they really can’t do without and how they might be able to use what they have to greater effect.

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