FEB 22, 2011 8:25am ET

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Has Data Become a Four-Letter Word?


In her excellent blog post “'The Bad Data Ate My Homework'’' and Other IT Scapegoating,” Loraine Lawson explained how “there are a lot of problems that can be blamed on bad data. I suspect it would be fair to say that there’s a good percentage of problems we don’t even know about that can be blamed on bad data and a lack of data integration, quality and governance.”

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Comments (9)
Bad data is only a valid excuse if management refuses to dedicate any resources to its resolution. Once bad data is identified and the source is identified it's time for action to correct it, rather than using it as a crutch. However, it has been my experience that the owners of the systems that are generating bad data are often able to convince management that it is too costly and difficult to fix it at the source - so why don't we just make IT "fix" it as it is moved from source to destination. Architecturally this is the worst option (well, second worst to "make the reports account for bad data"). But the difference is that IT can usually accomplish this so we are victims of our own proficiency. I have actually heard first hand conversations where the owners of reports who have coded for bad data are upset when the data is cleaned up and insist that IT "unfix" the data so the reports work. To my amazement, management agreed to this solution - they purposefully messed up their own data. I chose to leave that company, for obvious reasons.
Posted by Mark V | Wednesday, February 23 2011 at 10:41AM ET
I would suggest something completely different: it is not data or data quality that is the problem. It is that people, and by extension organizational cultures, that think that data is absolute that are the problem. The phrase: "the data is bad" is the epitome of the innumeracy that is plaguing our progress in the 21st century. All raw information has some uncertainty associated with it and any process that uses that data needs to take that into account. So by definition there isn't any 'bad' data, just data with a certain amount of uncertainty.

The reason that organizations like Amazon and Google run circles around their competition is because in their corporate cultures they embrace that uncertainty and bake it right into their business processes.

Talking about data in the absolute is missing the bigger picture.

Posted by Theodore O | Wednesday, February 23 2011 at 10:41AM ET
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