Has Data Become a Four-Letter Word?

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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.”

Lawson examined whether bad data could have been the cause of the bank foreclosure fiasco, as opposed to, as she concludes, the more realistic causes being bad business and negligence, which, if not addressed, could lead to another global financial crisis.

“Bad data,” Lawson explained, “might be the most ubiquitous excuse since ‘the dog ate my homework.’ But while most of us would laugh at the idea of blaming the dog for missing homework, when someone blames the data, we all nod our heads in sympathy, because we all know how troublesome computers are. And then the buck gets (unfairly) passed to IT.”

Unfairly blaming IT, or technology in general, when poor data quality negatively impacts business performance is ignoring the organization’s collective ownership of its problems, and its shared responsibility for the solutions to those problems, and causes, as Lawson explained in “Data’s Conundrum: Everybody Wants Control, Nobody Wants Responsibility,” an “unresolved conflict on both the business and the IT side over data ownership and its related issues, from stewardship to governance.”

In organizations suffering from this unresolved conflict between IT and the Business – a dysfunctional divide also known as the IT-Business Chasm – bad data becomes the default scapegoat used by both sides.

Perhaps, in a strange way, placing the blame on bad data is progress when compared with the historical notions of data denial, when an organization’s default was to claim that it had no data quality issues whatsoever.

However, admitting bad data not only exists, but that bad data is also having a tangible negative impact on business performance doesn’t seem to have motivated organizations to take action.  Instead, many appear to prefer practicing bad data blame-storming, where the Business blames bad data on IT and its technology, and IT blames bad data on the Business and its business processes.

Or perhaps, by default, everyone just claims that “the bad data ate my homework.”

Are your efforts to convince executive management that data needs to treated like a five-letter word (“asset”) being undermined by the fact that data has become a four-letter word in your organization?


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