‘Orrible Information Quality

By Daragh O Brien
June 15, 2012
19min read

I was going through the post this morning, including some that had arrived yesterday. In the bundle was the brochure/magazine/sales pitch in the picture opposite. It promotes “Solutions for Business Drivers” (but the branding suggests that is a singular thing) and it extolled me to “Be a Change Hero”. I was psyched. I was enthused. I was…

… I was really confused why the mail item was addressed to a different person (click image on right to zoom), who obviously works for a company I used to work for, but sent to my home address. Particularly as it is approaching the 3rd anniversary of my leaving that company, a journey which led me to set up Castlebridge Associates. Checking back through my “junk I need to shred and recycle” pile I found another few of these flyers that have been sent by a very large Data Tech Vendor.

Who is this mysterious Mr Peter (actually, that’s his first name)? I found him on LinkedIn and have let him know that I’m getting his post from this vendor. He is a BI manager in the firm I used to work for. More importantly, why is post in his name, in relation to the company he works for being sent to an address that has no actual connection to the company that he is working for?

The Answer

The answer is, of course, poor #dataquality, or #informationquality if you prefer. But the context of this error creates a whole host of other potential knock on problems, not least potential liability under EU Data Protection rules for failing to ensure data is accurate and up to date.

  • Origin of the data: I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out what the origin of the data might be that would have allowed a firm to conflate two identities into one. The best I can come up with is that either
    1. The company has purchased a registration list from a US Data Management conference or trade publication that I might have registered with many years ago. I might have mentioned my employer on that. But for a variety of reasons, from 2007 on I didn’t reference my employer when registering for conferences as they weren’t paying for them and I was travelling on my own dollar and own time to learn. So, if they are using data from that source, it’s 5 years old.
    2. The company has taken data from one of the businesses they acquired last year, Datanomic. Castlebridge Associates was a Datanomic partner, and I was on the Datanomic mailing list, and the guys in Datanomic knew me when I was working with eircom. It may be that that data has been mashed and mangled. But it is three years out of date. And I never gave my home address when engaging in commercial communications with vendors when I was with eircom.
    3. LinkedIn – they’ve taken a feed of data from LinkedIn and cobbled it together with other sources to generate a dataset. Only my home address isn’t on my LinkedIn Profile, so that’s likely not the case.
  • Age of the Data: As already alluded to, my relationship with eircom as an employee ceased almost 3 years ago. Any data that links me to eircom is THAT old. In the current economic climate it could be argued that it is not advisable to rely on data about links to an employer that is more than 18 months old. That age of data means there is inaccuracy. It is also a potential compliance problem under EU law as Data Controllers (and Oracle is a Data Controller here) are required to ensure that data is kept accurate and up to date.
  • Presentation Quality: A minor quibble, but Company then Family Name then Firstname is not the common format of adressing in Ireland. But it appears that Oracle Deutschland were the originators of the mailing (which means German Data Protection law may apply, not Irish interpretations – and Germany is strict).
  • Means to correct errors: There is no feedback loop here (other than returning the mail piece, which frankly I won’t because it’s a good prop for training courses). I may email their UK Sales email (which deals with Ireland – another mistake many industries make… the markets and approach to the market are VERY different), but that might not get me anywhere. So next month I’ll get another one of these. Unless I go public enough with it that someone in Oracle takes notice of the crap in their database.

(Ironically, in a previous life I gave pro bono advice over a coffee to a guy in Oracle Ireland who was being handed the role of developing their EU wide contacts/prospects database. I warned him about all of these issues, including the presentation issue and the timeliness/accuracy of data and the risks inherent in matching data based solely on company.)

The Outcome

In a recent LinkedIn discussions about Information Quality I’ve commented at length about the need to focus on the outcomes that are being supported or impeded by information and its quality. What are the outcomes here?

  1. A message is not being received by the intended recipient. That message could translate into billable business. At the very least the Customer Relationship is weakened as it appears that Oracle never have anything to share.
  2. The message is being received by an unintended recipient. While this is only marketing bumph this time, the question needs to be asked: who else uses that data for what other purposes? What else might be received at my home address? Contracts? Servers? Software? Consultants? (If you are sending consultants, they’ll need to bring their own sugar and teabags).
  3. The person who has received the message has announced the error to the world as an example, potentially amplifying the effect of the lost opportunity as a result of the errors in the data.
  4. The recipient (me) may be registering a complaint with Irish and German Data Protection Authorities about the accuracy and timeliness of the data.

The brochure contains a call to action just under the offending address label. It prompts people to think about their database “at the core”. This is wrong. Your database is the wrapper. It is like saying that a grocery shop is about shelving and baskets on wheels. What is at the core is your information, which is managed through a variety of technologies, of which databases are just one.

Oracle’s databases are probably excellent. But the information in them? That is another question.

Databases, and any technology you bring to bear in managing your Information Assets needs to help you manage outcomes and bring good data to market to enable your customers (internal and external) to do the same.

Burning marketing budgets sending information to the wrong address (and creating a potential Regulatory headache in the process) is an outcome you want to avoid.

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