• Lynne Christensen

Data Integrity Matters


Data moves fast in today's world. It is critical to the efficient operation of infrastructure, health care, education and transportation systems. Businesses and consumers depend upon data to make intelligent decisions. In other words, good data is gold.


I recently watched a television detective show. Set in the era before flat screen monitors, it had two of the lead actors searching an online database for possible suspects. Given the fact that they searched by address and city stored in the same database field, both the search results as well as the data itself was likely questionable. The data had no integrity.


This example was from a television show. They got away with it.

Not so much in the real world.

IT Managers around the world are with me on this one.

Garbage in = garbage out.


Take the above television example. Can you imagine the number of ways a data entry clerk could enter a street address followed by a city? Here are just a few variations:

• 123 Anystreet, Anycity

• 1-2-3 ANYSTREET, Any City

• 123 AnyStreet, ANY-CITY

And the list continues. Remember, too, that the data entry format doesn’t even account for typos such as Annystreet, Anystret, and Aneestreet. Databases are sensitive to capital letters, spaces and hyphens. Alphabetization is affected by these and also by how you treat numbers. It’s impossible to expect every data entry clerk to follow the same innate sense of correctness when it comes to picking the right date, name, city and country keyboarded format. Answers are found in style sheets and restricted fields. A style sheet is an in-house guide that explains to all users what spellings, formats, fonts, spacing etc. to use on corporate materials. Restricted fields — needed when running surveys gathering data from large sample sets — are database fields that provide a drop down list or mandated format of data entry to ensure format consistency. The more consistent the data, the better the results.


Address and city would never be in the same field inside any modern database due to the high risk of missing critical data when processing a sort, filter or reporting function. Intentions may have been good at the time, however, the accuracy of the end result should be fully in doubt. Accurate, consistent input is key when relying upon data. It's what produces precise information about weather events, business sales, criminal records and so much more.


Consider a spreadsheet software program and the autoformatting options for a date field. A quick check shows over 20 ways to write a date in a spreadsheet. It gets worse when one considers how some countries write day then month, whereas others prefer month then day format. Consider your audience and sample set before making assumptions. Dates are a great field to put into restricted format to ensure there is no question about the meaning. The genealogical standard insists upon 30 Sep 1933 format so there is no confusion when the month number is under twelve.


The next time the IT department comes to you with a request to discuss data integrity, please listen. It’s not a time for eyes to glaze over and expect a snoozefest. No. Rather, embrace the opportunity to ensure your data is stored in the best, most accurate format possible. This will, in turn, provide better help to your research and development scientists along with marketing and sales departments. It’s also nice to know that your CEO will be relying upon sound data when announcing a new corporate direction at the next shareholders' meeting.


IT experts are the unsung, often underappreciated heroes of the world. Their careful work ensures hospitals get needed supplies, first responders' urgent messages are received by the public, and store shelves get replenished as best as possible during challenging times. Data analysts can only analyze what they are given. If the data entered isn’t consistent, then neither are the reports nor conclusions derived from the information put into the system. Garbage in = Garbage out.


Data Integrity Matters.

Respect it.

Your firm’s success depends upon it. (and hey, you’re welcome, IT department)


Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to the detective show to see how long it takes to find the bad guy, considering they are working with merged field data.


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