Data Quality and Common Sense

My favourite story is the fairytale “The Emperor’s new clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen.

Hans_Christian_AndersenIn this tale an emperor hires two swindlers (aka consultants) who offer him the finest dress from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they tell him, is invisible to anyone who is either stupid or unfit for his position. In fact there is no cloth at all, but no one (but at the end a little child) dares to say.

The Data Quality discipline is tormented by belonging to both the business side and the technology side of practice. This means that we have to live with the buzzwords and the smartness coming from both the management consultants and the technology consultants and vendors – including myself.

So you really have to believe in a lot of things and terms said in order not to look stupid or unfit for your position.

A way to cope with this is to look behind all the fine terms and recognize that most things said and presented is just another way of expressing common sense. Some examples:

Business Process: What you do at work – e.g. selling some stuff and putting data about it into a database so it’s ready for invoicing.

Referential Integrity Error: When you sold something not in the database. You may pick another item from the current list. Bad Change Management: When someone tells you to do it in another way. Now.

Organisational Resistance: When you find that way completely ridiculous because no one tells you why.

Fuzzy logic: This is about the common nature of most questions in life. Statements are not absolutely true or absolutely false but somewhere in between depending on the angle from where you observe.

Business Intelligence: When someone puts your data along with some other data into a new context visualised in a graph in order to replace human gut feeling.

Poor Enterprise Wide Data Quality: The invoicing went well. The decision made from the graph didn’t. 

Data Governance: Meetings and documents about what went wrong with the data and how we can do better.

My experience is that the most successful data quality improvements is made when it is guided by common sense and expressed as being that. From there you may find great inspiration and practical skills and tools in each area of expertise.

2 thoughts on “Data Quality and Common Sense

  1. John Owens 19th July 2010 / 09:55

    Hi Henrik

    So true about jargon and people not wanting to look stupid.

    But experience has taught me that there is only one stupid question – the one you don’t ask!

    I discovered this while working in The Netherlands many years ago where a colleague and I were modeling an oil and gas company from end to end. I was attending a presentation on my own (my colleague being on leave) being given by a visiting executive from the UK.

    During his presentation he introduced the term, ERP, which I had not heard before and so did not understand. The crux of his presentation was that the introduction of ERP would give the enterprise a significant edge on the opposition.

    I knew that I could not go back to my colleague and say that I had attended the presentation but did not understand it. Very reluctantly, I put up my hand and asked, “What do you mean by ERP?”.

    His reply was, “How many years have you been in this business?”. My reply was, “Quite a few but I have not heard of ERP?”

    “We all know what ERP is.” All heads in the room nodded.

    “Can you please tell me?”, I asked.

    The presenter turned to George from Engineering and said, “George, can explain to Mr. Owens what ERP is?”

    To which George replied, “The way we use ERP in Engineering is unique and it would not be much use explaining it to an outsider”.

    He then turned to Gerrit from Exploration and asked him to explain it to me. Gerrit too explained that the way they used it was also unique and would not be of any use to outsiders.

    Pressed harder, the presenter, with a look of contempt mixed with pity on his face, gave me his definition of ERP.

    I listened and then understood. “Oh, you mean BPR!”, I said.

    Going rather red faced the presenter replied, “Yes I suppose some people do call it that!”

    So now, whenever I hear a person using a term I do not understand, or in a manner that seems out of context, I always ask, “What do YOU mean by….?”


  2. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 19th July 2010 / 10:13

    Thanks a lot John. Marvelous story.

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