You Can Fix Your Dirty Data!

Dirty data isn’t a dirty word. In polite terms, what I mean is “dirt happens”, if you get what I mean.

See – even if you have a well-constructed database, and a savvy team – things change, and over time, you end up with funk in your system.

That funk doesn’t stand up and sing “That’s The Way I Like It” – au contraire – it irritates your team, your customers, keeps you from running effective reports, and prevents you from making sound, data driven decisions.

But you can fix it – here are a few role based tips:

Chief Information Officer:

Opt for a trusting security model. That means that when any one of your workers finds a mistake, they have authority and access to fix it. If you aren’t doing that now, go talk to your HR department. If you can’t trust your employees to make continuous improvements, you have a hiring problem.

Compliance Officer:

It isn’t 1996 anymore. HIPAA has been around for a long time, and the litigation that frightened you to death didn’t happen. Ditto for anyone with McKinney Act compliance needs. So dust off that policy book and figure out what you can relax so your team can maintain your data.

Data Architect:

You did hire a UX design expert, right? You know – they worked with you to design effective input screens, based on user roles in your agency?  If you didn’t – your dirty data probably comes from that messy screen where you recommended laying things out on a grid and cramming 200 fields on a single page.

Okay, you didn’t. So go and do that.

Corporate Attorney:

You and your compliance officer should have date night. Tip back a tasty drink, and talk about risks in terms of what might actually happen if one of your fears comes true. Don’t forget that likelihood and impact are far better indicators of what to mitigate than the risk itself. Now that you’ve lightened up a bit – go and tell your team about it.

Database Administrator/System Administrator:

You’ve implemented smart error handling, right? You know – limited the use of user checked boxes, people can enter a phone number and your code figures out how to render it, you calculate age based on a birthdate, and so on.

Oh. Alrighty then – you have some work to do. Make it easy for people to enter clean data – easier to fix it on the way in then after the fact.

Marketing Manager:

You aren’t asking for data that you aren’t going to use, are you? I get it – the more you know, the better you can market. But you have to give to get – and you shouldn’t put a barrier in the way of your end users or those doing data entry. Get the minimum required to start – and then entice your users to give you more.

System User:

You fix stuff as you see it, right? When you see “jOhn SMiTH” in the system, you just go ahead and fix it, right? Because if you don’t do it, no one will.

Oh – you don’t have access and permission? Go talk to your CIO. If they can’t help, go see your HR team and tell them that not being able to fix mistakes qualifies as a hostile work environment.


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