With 2013 winding down and a new year approaching, every industry has slogged through a busy season. That's especially true for any market that cares about data quality.
December was a hectic month, as millions of consumers scrambled to finish up their holiday shopping and companies competed to meet people's needs. It was vital for all businesses to have high-quality data on their side, both for tracking their progress and for keeping tabs on the progress of individual consumers.
Here's a look back at four of the stories that dominated the news this month.
Gleaning knowledge on holiday shopping
First and foremost, retailers were eager to learn more about the results of the holiday shopping season. Had their sales numbers been naughty or nice? Luckily, anyone with high standards of data quality was able to answer that question with ease.
"The amount of data being produced today is an exponential multitude of what we've had in the past," said Marc Fischli, chief operating officer of customer science firm Dunnhumby France, according to The Globe and Mail. "Now you can literally personalize the shopping experience of a household or person."
Companies were able to uncover massive amounts of knowledge about their practices this December. It may benefit them a year from now.
The doctor is in
The medical field also needs to have high standards when it comes to data quality. Across the nation, physicians and health care providers are looking to assess their performance and figure out whether they're delivering optimal care.
According to California HealthLine, the Golden State is one that could be doing better. California received a "C" grade for the accessibility of data on physician quality. The organization found that transparent, high-quality data was only accessible to 37 percent of physicians in the state.
It's important that health firms pay more attention to this issue. The availability of data can help save lives for patients nationwide.
Local political campaigns often have trouble with address management solutions. If an individual is running for city council, for instance, he or she needs to collect a large number of signatures on a petition, usually complete with people's contact information. If that information is wrong, however, it can be problematic.
According to the Connecticut Post, one troubling story just arose in Bridgeport, Conn., where the state is investigating the town clerk's office because of questionable tactics on the part of City Council candidate Richard DeJesus.
DeJesus is under investigation for allegedly campaigning and voting with invalid voter addresses. If he had taken better care of his data, this problem could have been avoided.
How do issues arise?
We've established that data quality is a serious issue for many sectors of industry, but it's time to zoom out and ask a bigger question - why do such problems happen? What's the cause of data quality errors in the first place? According to Computer Weekly, there are many.
"One of the most fundamental laws of physics, entropy, essentially states that unless energy from the outside is applied, the amount of disorder in an enclosed system will increase over time," said Tony Lock, program director at analyst group Freeform Dynamics. "Restated in IT terms, this means the quality of data held in IT systems will deteriorate unless steps are taken to maintain its accuracy and consistency."
Companies need to address their data quality concerns by looking at a variety of areas. Among them are "data drift" - the dropoff in quality that occurs when files are moved among multiple destinations - human error and data verification. Businesses shouldn't merely be checking their data for accuracy at the point where it's first collected. Rather, they should be constantly striving for excellence.