Holistic Accuracy

In community economics you have two terms called

  • Partitive accuracy and
  • Holistic accuracy

In short, partitive accuracy is the accuracy of a single measure being part of a model while holistic accuracy is the accuracy of the model structure and its use. More information here.

I find these terms being very useful in data quality and master data management as well.

The distinction between partitive accuracy and holistic accuracy resembles the distinction between data quality and information quality.

One problem with the term information quality is that it implies a certain context of use, which makes it hard to prepare data for having high data quality for multiple uses other than assuring the accuracy of the single data elements – being similar to the term partitive accuracy.

One clue for assuring better information quality is looking at the model structure of data – being similar to the term holistic accuracy. Here I am thinking beyond traditional data modeling, which is anchored in the technical world, and into how end users of master data hubs are able to build structures of data (with partitive accuracy) that fits the daily business use.

Examples of such holistic information capabilities in master data management will be building flexible product hierarchies and hierarchies of party master data that at the same time reflects hierarchies in the real world as households and company family trees and hierarchies of related accounts and addresses used within the enterprise.

While a single data element as an address component like a postal code may be partitive accurate, the holistic accuracy is seen as how data elements contribute to a holistic accuracy as a part of a data structure that fits multiple purposes of use.

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Happy Uniqueness

When making the baseline for customer data in a new master data management hub you often involve heavy data matching in order to de-duplicate the current stock of customer master data, so you so to speak start with a cleansed duplicate free set of data.

I have been involved in such a process many times, and the result has never been free of duplicates. For two reasons:

  • Even with the best data matching tool and the best external reference data available you obviously can’t settle all real world alignments with the confidence needed and manual verification is costly and slowly.
  • In order to make data fit for the business purposes duplicates are required for a lot of good reasons.

Being able to store the full story from the result of the data matching efforts is what makes me, and the database, most happy.

The notion of a “golden record” is often not in fact a single record but a hierarchical structure that reflects both the real world entity as far as we can get and the instances of this real world entity in a form that are suitable for different business processes.

Some of the tricky constructions that exist in the real world and are usual suspects for multiple instances of the same real world entity are described in the blog posts:

The reasons for having business rules leading to multiple versions of the truth are discussed in the posts:

I’m looking forward to yet a party master data hub migration next week under the above conditions.

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Hierarchical Completeness

A common technique used when assessing data quality is data profiling. For example you may count different measures as number of fields in a table that have null values or blank values, distribution of filled length of a certain field, average values, highest values, lowest values and so on.

If we look at the most prominent entity types in master data management being customers and products you may certainly also profile your customer tables and product tables and indeed many data profiling tutorials use these common sort of tables as examples.

However, in real life profiling an entire customer table or product table will often be quite meaningless. You need to dig into the hierarchies in these data domains to get meaningful measures for your data quality assessment.

Customer master data

In profiling customer master data you must consider the different types of party master data as business entities, department entities, consumer entities and contact entities, as the demands for completeness will be different for each type. If your raw data don’t have a solid categorization in place, a prerequisite for data profiling will often be to make such a categorization before going any further.

If your customer data model isn’t too simple, as explained in post A Place in Time, your location data (like shipping addresses, billing addresses, visiting addresses) will be separated from your customer naming and identification data. This hierarchical structure must be considered in your data profiling.

For international customer data there will also be different demands and possibilities for completeness of customer data elements.    

Depending on your industry and way of doing business there may also be different demands for customer data related to different industry verticals, demographic groups and data sourced in different channels. However this may be a slippery ground, as current and not at least future requirements for multiple uses of the same master data may change the picture.   

Product master data

For most businesses the requirements for completeness and other data profiling measures will be very different depending on the product type.

Some requirements will only apply to a small range of products; other requirements apply to a broader range of products.

All in all the data profiling requirements is an integrated part of hierarchy management for product master data which make a very strong case for having data profiling capabilities implemented as part of a product information management (PIM) solution.

Multi-Domain Master Data Management

For master data management solutions embracing both customer data integration (CDI) and product information management (PIM) integrated capabilities for profiling customer master data, location master data and product master data as part of hierarchy management makes a lot of sense.

As improving data quality isn’t a one-off activity but a continuous program, so is the part being measuring the completeness of your master data of any kind.

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Fuzzy Hierarchy Management

When evaluating results from automated data matching your goal is typically to find false positives and false negatives being entities that are matched, but shouldn’t be (false positives) and entities that are not matched, but should have been (false negatives).

However the fuzziness often used in the data matching process also apply to the evaluation of the results as many dubious results isn’t a question about if the matched database rows are reflecting the same real world entity but more a question about if the matched (or not matched) database rows are reflecting different members of a real world hierarchy.

Example 1:

John Smith on 1 Main Street in Anytown
Mary & John Smith on 1 Main Str in Anytown

Example 2:

Anytown Municipality, Technical Dept
Municipality of Anytown

Example 3:

Acme Corporation, Anytown
Acme Corporation, Anywhere

All three examples above may be considered a false positive if matched and a false negative if not matched.

You may say that it depends on the purpose of use, which is true.

But if we are talking master data management we may probably encompass multiple requirements where we simultaneously need the match and don’t want the match, which is why we need to be able to resolve and store the results from fuzzy data matching into hierarchies.

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What’s a Six Pack?

I have earlier written about my Right the First Time enrolment at the local fitness club and how I geekingly are using the dashboard on the workout equipment to follow my Fitness Data.  

But it is probably (or actually certainly) too early to talk about the term “six pack” related to these efforts.

So let’s talk about a “six pack” related to master data management.

We may for example have a look at “a six pack of Carlsberg lager”.

Sometimes you may ask how many different products you are handling in a master data hub. In answering that question we here may come up with a lot of different numbers all being a Perfect Wrong Answer.

The real world isn’t flat. When dealing with product master data we certainly need to see the world in hierarchies as:

  • Carlsberg lager as such is a product with some attributes and some relations to the customers liking this product or not.
  • The product may be brewed in the original country of origin (Denmark) or at lot of other facilities around the world, thus making it a different product per supplier with respect to some attributes.
  • As a customer you buy the product in a certain packaging like a six pack of cans in a given size with a given label.

The bottom level presented here is what in data management terms is identified as a Stock Keeping Unit (SKU).

Oh, and consuming the last “six pack” is probably (or actually certainly) not good for achieving the first mentioned “six pack”.

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Storing a Single Version of the Truth

An ever recurring subject in the data quality and master data management (MDM) realms is whether we can establish a single version of the truth.

The most prominent example is whether an enterprise can implement and maintain a single version of the truth about business partners being customers, prospects, suppliers and so on.

In the quest for establishing that (fully reachable or not) single version of the truth we use identity resolution techniques as data matching and we are exploiting ever increasing sources of external reference data.

However I am often met with the challenge that despite what is possible in aiming for that (fully reachable or not) single version of the truth, I am often limited by the practical possibilities for storing it.

In storing party master data (and other kind of data) we may consider these three different ways:

Flat files

This “Keep It Simple, Stupid” way of storing data has been on an ongoing retreat – however still common, as well as new inventions of big flat file structures of data are emerging.

Also many external sources of reference data is still flat file like and the overwhelming choice of exchanging reference and master data is doing it by flat files.

Despite lots of work around solutions for storing the complex links of the real world in flat files we basically ends up with using very simplified representations of the real world (and the truth derived) in those flat files.  

Relational databases

Most Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are based on a relational data model, however mostly quite basic regarding master data structures making it not straight forward to reflect the most common hierarchical structures of the real world as company family trees, contacts working for several accounts and individuals forming a household.  

Master Data Management hubs are of course built for storing exactly these hierarchical kinds of structures. Common challenges here are that there often is no point in doing that as long as the surrounding applications can’t follow and that you often may restrict your use to a simplified model anyway like an industry model.   

Neural networks

The relations between parties in the real world are in fact not truly hierarchical. That is why we look into the inspiration from the network of biological neurons.

Doing that has been an option I have heard about for many years but still waits to meet as a concrete choice when delivering a single version of the truth.   

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Big Trouble with Big Names

An often seen issue in party master data management is handling information about your most active customers, suppliers and other roles of interest. These are often big companies with many faces.

I remember meeting that problem way back in the 80’s when I was designing a solution for the Danish Maritime Authorities.  

In relation to a ship there are three different main roles:

  • The owner of the ship, who has some legal rights and obligations
  • The operator of ship, who has responsibilities regarding the seaworthiness of the ship
  • The employer, who has responsibilities regarding the seamen onboard the ship

Sometimes these roles don’t belong to the same company (or person) for a given ship. That real world reality was modeled all right. But even if it practically is the same company, then the roles are materialized very different for each role. I remember this was certainly the case with the biggest ship-owner in Denmark (and also by far the biggest company in Denmark) being the A.P. Moller – Maersk Group.

We really didn’t make a golden record for that golden company in my time on the project.

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Follow Friday Data Quality

Every Friday on Twitter people are recommending other tweeps to follow using the #FollowFriday (or simply #FF) hash tag.

My username on twitter is @hlsdk.

Sometimes I notice tweeps I follow are recommending the username @hldsk or @hsldk or other usernames with my five letters swapped.

It could be they meant me? – but misspelled the username. Or they meant someone else with a username close to mine?

As the other usernames wasn’t taken I have taken the liberty to create some duplicate (shame on me) profiles and have a bit of (nerdish) fun with it:


For this profile I have chosen the image being the Swedish Chef from the Muppet show. To make the Swedish connection real the location on the profile is set as “Oresund Region”, which is the binational metropolitan area around the Danish capital Copenhagen and the 3rd largest Swedish city Malmoe as explained in the post The Perfect Wrong Answer.


For this profile I have chosen the image being a gorilla originally used in the post Gorilla Data Quality.

This Friday @hldsk was recommended thrice.

But I think only by two real life individuals: Joanne Wright from Vee Media and Phil Simon who also tweets as his new (one-man-band I guess) publishing company.

What’s the point?

Well, one of my main activities in business is hunting duplicates in party master databases.

What I sometimes find is that duplicates (several rows representing the same real world entity) have been entered for a good reason in order to fulfill the immediate purpose of use.

The thing with Phil and his one-man-band company is explained further in the post So, What About SOHO Homes.

By the way, Phil is going to publish a book called The New Small. It’s about: How a New Breed of Small Businesses is Harnessing the Power of Emerging Technologies.

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Mixed Identities

A frequent challenge when building a customer master data hub is dealing with incoming records from operational systems where the data in one record belongs to several real world entities.

One situation may be that that a name contains two (or more) real world names. This situation was discussed in the post Splitting names.

Another situation may be that:

  • The name belongs to real world entity X
  • The address belongs to real world entity Y
  • The national identification number belongs to real world entity Z

Fortunately most cases only have 2 different real world representations like X and Y or Y and Z.

An example I have encountered often is when a company delivers a service through another organization. Then you may have:

  • The name of the 3rd party organization in the name column(s)
  • The address of the (private) end user in the address columns

Or as I remember seen once:

  • The name of the (private) end user in the name column(s)
  • The address of the (private) end user in the address columns
  • The company national identification number of the 3rd party organization in the national ID column

Of course the root cause solution to this will be a better (and perhaps more complex) way of gathering master data in the operational systems. But most companies have old and not so easy changeable systems running core business activities. Swapping to new systems in a rush isn’t something just done either. Also data gathering may take place outside your company making the data governance much more political.

A solution downstream at the data matching gates of the master data hub may be to facilitate complex hierarchy building.

Oftentimes the solution will be that the single customer view in the master data hub will be challenged from the start as the data in some perception is fit for the intended purpose of use.

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Relational Data Quality

Most of the work related to data quality improvement I do is done with data in relational databases and is aimed at creating new relations between data. Examples (from party master data) are:

  • Make a relation between a postal address in a customer table and a real world address (represented in an official address dictionary).
  • Make a relation between a business entity in a vendor table and a real world business (represented in a business directory most often derived from an official business register).
  • Make a relation between a consumer in one prospect table and a consumer in another prospect table because they are considered to represent the same real world person.

When striving for multi-purpose data quality it is often necessary to reflect further relations from the real world like:

  • Make a relation in a database reflecting that two (or more) persons belongs to the same household (on the same real world address)
  • Make a relation in the database reflecting that two (or more) companies have the same (ultimate) mother.

Having these relations done right is fundamental for any further data quality improvement endeavors and all the exciting business intelligence stuff. In doing that you may continue to have more or less fruitful discussions on say the classic question: What is a customer?

But in my eyes, in relation to data quality, it doesn’t matter if that discussion ends with that a given row in your database is a customer, an old customer, a prospect or something else. Building the relations may even help you realize what that someone really is. Could be a sporadic lead is recognized as belonging to the same household as a good customer. Could be a vendor is recognized as being a daughter company of a hot prospect. Could be someone is recognized as being fake. And you may even have some business intelligence that based on the relations may report a given row as a customer role in one context and another role in another context.