Keep your data healthy with an effective immune system


What on earth do your tonsils have to do with data? More than you might at first realise, explains project manager and data specialist Pim Hagelstein, who recognised an enlightening analogy between his recent sore throat and the importance of healthy data.

My parents’ words, “prevention is better than cure” still ring in my ears, and a recent bout of tonsillitis was a painful reminder of them. Tonsillitis isn’t much fun I can assure you – particularly when you can hardly eat and you’re short of breath. A course of antibiotics helped, thankfully, but could it all have been avoided in the first place? An oft-chosen solution for tonsillitis is to just remove the tonsils, but the ENT specialist told me that they play a key role in your immune system. They prevent the entry of pathogens and render them harmless.

I realised that all this has something in common with my area of expertise, which is data quality. The immune system for data – comprising Key Risk Indicatwors (KRIs), Business Rules, Controls and healthy behaviour – prevents data problems from entering your organisation, which helps to keep the data quality at a “healthy” level.

When pathogens get into your organisation

An immune system prevents the entry of data that is incomplete, inaccurate or unavailable. In the event of a malfunction of the immune system that manifests itself in the form of a data problem, we speak of an incident. The use of such corrupted data brings with it risks that can cost a lot of time and money. This is not dissimilar to the admittance of a pathogen into your body, making you ill. It often takes a while before you realise it has happened and before you can recover.

Prevention is better than cure

As an organisation then, what can you do about all this? In my opinion it starts with awareness and the ownership of data. To operate with the required degree of motivation, the organisation must recognise the importance of data quality. Get fit and stay fit, as it were. It’s also essential that everyone has a clear idea of how best to guarantee the quality of data. At the very least it means making agreements and establishing the rules of the game in the form of a pragmatic policy, data governance framework and risk appetite. Visualising the data flows will then give you an overview and pinpoint the areas in which data challenges might be expected.

An effective data-defence system

If it is to be effective, a data-defence system must be well designed. To prevent data challenges escalating into data incidents, you’ll need to set up workable business rules, controls and KRIs. Together, these will constitute an immune system that will underscore good data quality. Business Rules and Controls will prevent incidents and KRIs will flag up anything untoward and tell you that you run the risk of corrupted data. In this way we can see that KRIs and other provisions that underscore data quality are essential for good business operations, particularly when you bear in mind the key role that data plays in financial institutions. Well, how effective is the immune system in your organisation?

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