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Is your data showing you the real picture?

Richard Jones Archive

Data is becoming critical for successful decision making across sectors. Insurance companies are using it to review applicants' histories, retailers are looking to content to learn more about their customers and education organizations are crunching numbers to discover student demographic data for current and future recruitment efforts. 

For instance, Florida schools plan to leverage students' test scores, grades and teachers' performance metrics to allocate bonus payments for teachers and assess classroom success. 

Although the goals of data users differ, there is one common thread that links them together. They all rely on having accurate information that creates a clear picture from which they can make actionable decisions. 

Poor data quality still a major problem
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many data users admit they may have a problem with data quality, which means their end-results could be polluted with incomplete or inaccurate entries that can compromise their success.

There are many ways that dirty data sneaks in - failing to verify email addresses and other content at the point of entry, sloppy handling during its transportation across departments or transfer between incongruous systems. However, there are also users that might be suffering from bad data quality  without even knowing it. Perhaps the firm has always recognized a margin of error but chalked it up as a normal consequence, or perhaps decision-makers believe everyone suffers from similar issues. 

Perception and awareness impact data success
In the latest post for the Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality Blog, Jim Harris writes about Plato's Cave allegory and how it relates to data. In the philosophical allegory, prisoners are kept chained in a cave throughout their lives. The only light they have comes from a fire that's been lit behind them, and the only things they can see are shadows on a wall in front of them that are being projected by puppeteers standing in front of the fire. These people provide the only source of entertainment and noise that the prisoners ever hear. 

If one prisoner were to be removed from the cave and shown the world outside, he or she may not believe that the external scene is a reality and that the shadow-puppet storylines were anything but truth, Harris explains. 

In a similar link, Harris suggests that data users can become blinded to the data they see in front of them. If they have only ever seen the information that comes through their databases, they might automatically assume that it's correct and real. However, it might not be showing the whole picture or even be an accurate portrayal of the current environment.