Bad data a ‘mission-
critical issue’

28 Feb 2005

The sheer mass of data now in circulation and the poor quality of a significant proportion of it is fast becoming a boardroom issue, according to the Irish Computer Society (ICS).

“The key issue is that historically companies had their own data and tended to manage their own databases without any external links. That’s all changing now. Vendors, customers and suppliers are all exchanging data and this is having an impact on data quality,” said Jim Friars, chief executive of the ICS.

The issue has become so serious that the ICS last week launched a new special-interest group (SIG) to highlight and address the problem.

The ICS has teamed up with the Irish members of the International Association for Information and Data Quality (IAIDQ) to form a new ICS special-interest network. The Information Quality Network (IQ Network) is for IT professionals responsible for the operation or development of the systems that process and store business data, and for business professionals concerned about the impact of poor quality data on their processes and costs.

The IQ Network was launched at a briefing held at the Helix in Dublin City University (DCU) last week. The event was attended by more than 50 business and IT professionals from a range of organisations including IBM, SAP, Eircom, Kainos, Similarity Systems and BT. A series of presentations were given on the significant impact poor quality data can have on businesses and the significant returns on investment that can be achieved when appropriate information quality-management procedures are implemented.

The Irish SIG is being spearheaded by Daragh O’Brien, senior project manager within Eircom’s customer relationship management (CRM) programme, and DCU computer lecturer Markus Helfert. O’Brien commented: “Over the past couple of years it has become clear that it’s not just about building more systems; it’s about managing the processes. We felt there was a need for a forum where people who are involved in information quality can share best practice.”

According to O’Brien, poor data management can have serious repercussions. “The collapse of Barings Bank for example was due to a data-quality problem. Nick Leeson salted away funds in an account. The Baring systems did not recognise it as valid account number and so did not display it. In addition, the recent instances of overcharging by fixed and mobile telcos has made the public aware of the importance of quality information, particularly in billing. As a result, telcos are taking this issue very seriously all along the information value chain to avoid the impacts of poor quality on their customers.”

He added that although the data quality has been a problem in the US for years, the enactment of anti-fraud legislation Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 2002, has made senior executives there much more aware of the issue. “The business case and agenda are much easier to make now. When you draw your chief financial officer a picture of an 8×10 room that they’re sharing with two other people, the issue soon gets their attention.”

According to Friars, the problem bad data is not new but has been exacerbated in recent years by the advent of CRM and other systems that have multiplied the amount of data being collected and stored. “Data quality is an IT issue that has huge business ramifications. It’ll be one of the things that everyone is talking about; the next big boardroom issue,” he said.

The IQ Network aims to educate its members on the latest processes and technologies used to combat deficient data. It will also provide a forum for like-minded individuals and support members’ efforts in driving improvements in information and data-quality management throughout Irish organisations.

Members of the IQ Network will become members of the ICS and the IAIDQ. The latter was established by acknowledged thought leaders in the IQ area, including Larry English (author of Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality) and Dr Tom Redman (author of Data Quality for the Information Age), to promote best practice and the development of information-quality management as a distinct professional discipline.

Details of the next IQ Network event, due to be held in early April, will be posted on the ICS website.

By Brian Skelly