Data Quality: The Movie

Learning from courses, books, articles and so on is good – but sometimes a bit like watching a movie and then realizing that the real world – especially your world – isn’t exactly as in the movie.


The parking experience:

The movie: You are going to visit someone in a huge building in the centre of a large city. You take your car to the front of the building and smoothly place the car on the free parking spot next to the main entrance.

Real life: You drive round and round for ages until finally you find a free parking spot hardly in walking distance from your destination.

My life: I have during my 30 years in the IT business visited a lot of companies and spent time in the IT departments. Nobody does everything by the book. Not even close.

Maybe large companies within financial services are those who in my experience are within some distance of doing something by the book. This is probably because most books about IT seem to be written by folks who had their experiences from working in large financial service businesses.

(And no, I have absolutely no documentation on that. It is just a gut feeling).

Hitting them hard:

The movie: You are a good guy observing a bad guy harassing a good looking girl. You engage the bad guy in an intense fist fight, you are hit over and over again, but in the end you win. The good looking girl thanks you by kissing your beautiful face.

Real life: Well, you may win the fight. But after that you have to go the hospital and have them fix your face – and during the following month any girl can’t look at you without feeling very bad.

My life: Recently I was involved in a data management project aimed at producing some new business intelligence results. Executive sponsorship was no problem, the CEO was the initiator. Objectives were pretty clear. High level business requirements were well known and not to forget, everyone was fully aware of the impact from data quality. The only issue was the absence of more concrete detailed requirements and business rules for reporting. And of course a political settled deadline.

Facing the business rule issue we took a data centric and test driven approach. We produced incremental results, verified test cases, negotiated business rules based on real data examples and in the end a first report came out. The result was far from expected in the sense that the numbers was expected to be different. We dived into data again, found an unexpected data quality issue, corrected accordingly. The result was still far from expected. Based on a specific expected result we dived into a section of data, made detailed reports and compared to real world. In the end it turned out that the report was right, the gut feeling perception of the real world had been wrong for a long time.

Now that’s a winner, right? Well, the project is on hold now for political reasons and also the project has a bad name for going over budget and deadline.

Looking great:

The movie: Morning scene from the nuclear family. Mommy is looking really great (stylish hair, perfect face) while cooking and serving a nice breakfast and helping the kids doing some last minute homework at the same time.

Real life: I think you know.

My life: Actually I have learned that you don’t have to strive for perfection. With data quality; don’t expect you are able to fix everything and having all data fit for every purpose of use at any time.

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3 thoughts on “Data Quality: The Movie

  1. kenoconnordataconsultant 4th May 2010 / 12:20


    I enjoyed reading this post, as my own experience has been very similar.

    I often compare what happens within IT projects as similar to Darwin’s theory of evolution. The same project (e.g. CRM implementation) started in 100 similar organisations, in the same industry, will produce 100 completely different outcomes. The only similarity is in the expections, which are seldom fulfilled.

    In my series on Data Governance Issues, I have been guilty of recommending “an ideal world”. One should have a vision of the Data Governance one would like to have in place (perhaps in time). In reality, I agree with you…

    “With data quality; don’t expect you are able to fix everything and having all data fit for every purpose of use at any time.”

    I look forward to reading more “Movie Vs Real life” stories.

    Rgds Ken

  2. Jim Harris 4th May 2010 / 14:55

    Brilliant blog post Henrik,

    And I can’t wait for the DVD/Blue-ray release of the Director’s Cut with behind the scenes footage of the making of “Data Quality: The Movie” 🙂

    I think that the expectations preceding a data quality initiative are very much like a movie trailer, which almost always makes you what to go see the movie because it makes the movie look amazing — you see the thrilling car chase scene, the action-packed bar fight scene (defending the pretty girl), some random comic relief to show the movie is also funny, and the obligatory romantic scene so that a pretty girl might be inclined to go to the movie with you.

    But the actual movie rarely meets these expectations since oftentimes the trailer showed the only 3 minutes of the movie that we worth watching and the rest is a poorly tied together script with confusing dialogue and seemingly random explosions and gratuitous partial nudity (and usually not of the actor/actress you would have preferred).

    Data quality initiatives can also suffer from unrealistic and unmanaged expectations. And especially when they are based on the use of technology whose purchase was influenced by the vendor’s product movie – i.e. slick demonstration using nearly perfect test data.

    Wow, this comment is now officially longer than most Academy Award acceptance speeches, I had better wrap this up before . . .

  3. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 4th May 2010 / 15:32

    Ken and Jim, thanks for the lovely reviews.

    Ken I will think about a “Data Quality: The Movie 2” now Jim has laid out the plot and how to compose a catchy trailer.

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