Data Denial and Business Intelligence – How to Achieve Data Quality

The greatest battle you may face inside the organization will be to get management to the point where they agree that data quality is a goal even worth considering.

Everybody talks about data, but many often confuse it with information and knowledge. Basically, data is a core corporate asset that must be synthesized into information before it can serve as the basis for knowledge within the organization. Nevertheless, data is ubiquitous – it is used to support every aspect of the business, and is an integral component of every key business process. However, incorrect data cannot generate useful information, and knowledge built on invalid information can lead organizations into catastrophic situations. As such, the usefulness of the data is only as good as the data itself – and this is where many organizations run into trouble.

Many organizations neither recognize nor accept the bad quality status of their data, and try instead to divert the attention to supposed faults within their respective systems or processes. To these organizations data denial has practically become an art form, where particularly daunting corporate barriers have been built – typically over long periods of time – to avoid the call to embark on any “real” Data Quality improvement initiatives.

However, we have found that the best way to measure the extent to which your organization may be dealing with data denial is to ask the following key questions:

  • Are you aware of any Data Quality issues within your company?
  • Are there existing processes that are not working as originally designed?
  • Are people circumventing, the system in order to get their work completed?
  • Have you ever been forced to deny a business request for information due to an issue of Data Quality?
  • If the system was functioning properly, would this information have been readily available?
  • Has a business case been made outlining the economic impact of this issue? And, if so, has it ever been addressed with the organization’s leadership?
  • What was the response to these issues? And if there was no response, what is stifling this process?
  • What causes these “gaps” in Data Quality?
  • How are these issues affecting the responsiveness of your organization (i.e., to customers, stockholders, employees, etc.)?
  • If these issues were to be addressed and corrected, what strategic value would be added or enhanced?
  • Who bears the responsibility for addressing these issues within your organization?
  • What can be done to address these issues in the future?
  • What support is needed to implement a Data Quality strategy?

Depending on the answers to these questions, your organization may already be facing significant barriers to attaining Data Quality, each of which will need to be identified, assessed, prioritized and corrected. According to William K. Pollock, president of the Westtown, PA-based services consulting firm, Strategies For GrowthSM, “Most companies already know what data they do not have – and for them, this is a significant problem. However, the same companies are probably not aware that some of the data they do have may be faulty, incomplete or inaccurate – and if they use this faulty data to make important business decisions, that becomes an even bigger problem”.

Common Problems with Corporate Data

Research has shown that the amount of data and information acquired by companies has close to tripled in the past four years, while an estimated 10 to 30 percent of it may be categorized as being of “poor quality” (i.e., inaccurate, inconsistent, poorly formatted, entered incorrectly, etc.). The common problems with corporate data are many, but typically fall into the following five major areas:

  • Data Definition – typically manifesting itself through inconsistent definitions within a company’s corporate infrastructure.
  • Initial Data Entry – caused by incorrect values entered by employees (or vendors) into the corporate database; typos and/or intentional errors; poor training and/or monitoring of data input; poor data input templates; poor (or nonexistent) edits/proofs of data values; etc.
  • Decay – causing the data to become inaccurate over time (e.g., customer address, telephone, contact info; asset values; sales/purchase volumes; etc.).
  • Data Movement – caused by poor extract, transform and load (ETL) processes that lead to the creation of data warehouses often comprised of more inaccurate information than the original legacy sources, or excluding data that is mistakenly identified as inaccurate; inability to mine data in the source structure; or poor transformation of data.
  • Data Use – or the incorrect application of data to specific information objects, such as spreadsheets, queries, reports, portals, etc.

Each of these areas represents a potential problem to any business; both in their existence within the organization, as well as the ability of the organization to even recognize that the problem exists. In any case, these are classic symptoms of “data denial” – one of the most costly economic drains on the well-being of businesses today.

Data Quality Maturity Levels

There are five key status indicators that can be used to measure the existing levels of Data Quality maturity in an organization, each with its own set of distinct corporate – and human – attributes. However, it is at the mature level where you will want your organization to be positioned.

  1. Embryonic – this level is the least beneficial place to be, as Data Quality does not even appear on the organization’s radar screen; there is extensive finger-pointing with respect to data-associated blame, generally leading to cover-ups and CYAs; and there is no formal Data Quality organization in place. As far as the humans involved in the process are concerned – they are totally “clueless”.
  2. Infancy– this level is not that much better, although the organization has begun to consider looking into Data Quality; various ad hoc groups may have been established to search for “answers”; and Data Quality has been positioned as a subset of corporate IT. This typically occurs as the human element begins to show an emerging interest.
  3. Adolescence – this level is one of mixed Data Quality accomplishments where most of the pain points have already been identified and the strategy team has shifted into a crisis-driven “full court press” managed by formal Data Quality teams that are populated and coordinated by both IT and the Business. However, this is also the point where alternating periods of panic and frenzy typically set in.
  4. Young Adult – by the time the organization reaches this level, there begins to be some semblance of an evolving Data Quality structure, where the entire organization is involved; one where both IT and the Business have begun to work as partners toward a common goal. Accordingly, the human attribute has also become much more “stabilizing”.
  5. Mature – once the organization has attained the this level, it has finally reached the point where it has implemented an effective Data Quality structure, characterized by collaborative efforts and Data Quality/Center of Excellence (DQCE), as well as the ability to measure and track customer value over time. As such, the organization has been able to attain a “controlled” environment, where all of the personnel involved – on both the supply and demand sides – are comfortable that the desired levels of Data Quality have been achieved.

Moving Toward Data Quality

Data Quality is the desired state where an organization’s data assets reflect the following attributes:

  • Clear definition or meaning;
  • Correct values;
  • Understandable presentation format (as represented to a knowledge worker); and
  • Usefulness in supporting targeted business processes.

However, regardless of the state of the organization’s data assets, there must still be a balance of data, process and systems in order to meet the company’s stated business objectives, which generally focus on things like:

  • Increasing revenues and margins;
  • Increasing market share; and/or
  • Increasing customer satisfaction.

In today’s economy, companies tend to focus their investments more on packaged systems and business process optimization, rather than on Data Quality. As a result, investment in corporate Data Quality is often overlooked – and this can very easily lead to a significant reduction in the organization’s ability to effectively answer critical business questions, such as:

  • Who is our customer?
  • Are we missing sales opportunities?
  • Is the customer’s product entitled to service?
  • Are inaccuracies causing customer dissatisfaction?
  • What should we spare; how many; where?
  • Are our service functions efficient; is our decision support timely and reliable?
  • How is our product defined?
  • Is our billing accurate and timely?

The inability to answer these critical business questions leads to data quality issues such as:

  • Inconsistent or incomplete product structure and service data
  • Inability to uniquely identify entitled versus non-entitled equipment
  • Incomplete or non-existent configuration data on entitled products
  • Duplication and redundancy

But, it gets even worse! Poor Data Quality eventually stunts operational efficiency in virtually every area of the organization, as otherwise valuable resources (i.e., personnel, dollars, time, etc.) are required to spend an inordinate – and unnecessary – amount of extra effort:

  • Searching for missing data;
  • Correcting inaccurate information;
  • Creating temporary, or permanent, workarounds;
  • Laboring to assemble information from disparate data bases; and
  • Resolving data-related customer complaints.

Over time, poor data quality significantly decreases an organization’s revenue-generating opportunities. Lost revenue can exist is the following:

  • Lost Maintenance Contract Revenue – products that should be under contract are not captured and billing revenue is understated.
  • Lost T&M Revenue – Non-entitled products that should be serviced under T&M are serviced under contract
  • Lost Product Upgrade Opportunities – Inability to identify customer need for product and software upgrades
  • Incorrect Maintenance Charges – Incorrect contract pricing since product configurations cannot be accurately identified.
  • Lost Customer – Lost customers and revenue due to dissatisfaction with poor asset management and cumbersome reconciliations.
  • Delayed Contract Renewals – lost renewal revenue and increased admin costs due to delays in new contract initiation.
  • Overlooked Cross-sell & Up-sell Opportunities – missed opportunity to sell complementary or advanced solutions die to inaccurate records

Poor data quality also significantly increases its operating costs and, may in fact, lead to a reduction of customer satisfaction. Increased operating costs can exist in the following areas:

  • Sales Team – more time is required to manage new opportunities and create quotes, less time is spent selling and and quoting new maintenance contracts becomes inaccurate.
  • Customer Care Center – T&M billing disputes increase, the cost of contract dispute resolution is higher and there is a decreased accuracy and timeliness of invoices with increased dispute losses.
  • Contract Management – the effectiveness and timeliness of renewal activity is decreased.
  • Logistics – stocking locations become sub-optimized by an over/under stocking of spare parts.
  • Finance – data for decision support and performance reporting becomes incomplete and/or inaccurate.
  • Service Delivery – tech on-calls are doubled dispatched due to the wrong part, service level commitments are missed and trouble call handling is degraded.
  • Product Management – the product lifecycle position is inaccurately identified and inaccurate service history affects service offering decisions.
  • Services Marketing – the ability to develop pricing programs is hindered, marketing programs are not deployed effectively and there is an increased burden/time for data collection.

How to Achieve Data Quality

Arguably, the greatest battle you may face inside the organization will be to get management to the point where they agree that data quality is a goal even worth considering. To do this, every organization must have a champion to help find ways for removing barriers and changing existing perceptions. The primary focus of the champion should be on:

  • Assisting in making data quality a strategic priority;
  • Assuring that data quality will be used to enable business processes; and
  • Find – and communicate – compelling ways to make data quality attractive.

In our own experiences, Bardess Group has assisted many organizations to achieve data quality by applying the most effective methodology for accelerating the data cleansing and control processes.

Finding Success

Many organizations can achieve data quality by applying the most effective methodology for accelerating the data cleansing and control processes.

The seven major steps that must be taken to achieve Data Quality are:

  1. Acknowledge the problem, and identify the root causes;
  2. Determine the scope of the problem by prioritizing data importance and performing the necessary data assessments;
  3. Estimate the anticipated ROI, focusing on the difference between the cost of improving Data Quality vs. the cost of doing nothing;
  4. Establish a single owner of Data Quality with accountability (e.g., make it a senior management role, such as a Data Officer/DQ COE);
  5. Create a Data Quality vision and strategy, and identify the key change drivers;
  6. Develop a formal Data Quality improvement program based on specific tools wherever possible (e.g., First Logic, Trillium, IBM Ascential, Data Flux, Group 1), and use a value-driven approach for large projects; and
  7. Make it a priority to move your organization up through the levels of the Data Maturity model!

Achieving Data Quality is critical, but getting there is often a complex process. Data Quality requires commitments from all business functions, as well as from the top-down. Quick fixes typically do not work and generally only end up creating frustration. For many organizations, it may have taken years to create and foster a culture of data denial, and it will require rigorous processes to:

  • First, identify the problem before it can be fixed and;
  • Second, recognize – and accept – the full extent of the potential benefits that can ultimately be realized.

However, for many business enterprises, the numbers speak for themselves, where the implementation of a Data Quality initiative can ultimately lead to:

Reductions ranging from:

  • 10 – 20% of corporate budgets,
  • 40 – 50% of the IT budget, and
  • 40% of operating costs;
  • And increases of:
  • 15 – 20 % in revenues, and
  • 20 – 40% in sales

The application of Data Quality can provide an organization with the opportunity to capitalize on its cumulative information and knowledge assets. Knowledge that was previously unknown – or unavailable – such as cross-referenced customer buying patterns, profiles of potential buyers, or specific patterns of product/service usage may be uncovered and put into practical use for the first time. The end result can lead to anything ranging from improvements in operational efficiency, more accurate sales forecasting, more effective target marketing, and improved levels of customer service and support – all based on a strong foundation of Data Quality.

How To Qualify For A Business Loan

Qualifying for a business loan is not as easy as it was even one year ago. This is because most lending institutions have increased the requirements for businesses requesting a loan. The recent slowdown in our economy has forced banks to re-examine their lending practices as many businesses are experiencing lower profits. So when you are looking for a loan for your business it is important that you have everything in order so you will have the best chance to be approved.

One of the first things that you need to look at before going to a lending institution is whether or not you have a good business plan together. Having a business plan drawn up for your company is a great way to show the bank that you have carefully considered your request. This will show the bank where your business is currently and where you hope it will go once you have been approved for a loan. There are many professional writers that work as freelancers that have the expertise in this area that you can hire if you are uncertain about your ability to convey your thoughts on paper.

The next thing to do before you go to a lender is to look at your company’s financials. Clear as many debts as you possibly can. For example, if you use a credit card start paying it off monthly or if you have a vehicle loan with just a few payments left on it you might want to consider paying it off. This will help your income to debt ratio and make your business a more attractive prospect.

Once you have done that, you should look at all the officer’s credit reports. Every officer of the company will have a credit history run on them because they will be personally guaranteeing the loan. So make sure that the person income to debt ratio is good and clean up any bad marks against your credit.

When you have all of that together you are now ready to go to the lending institution. With the situation the way it is currently it would be wise to start with the bank you already have a relationship with. This is especially true if you have a community or local bank. They make their decisions based on the local area unlike the larger national banks. If your company is turned down don’t take it personally but consider your other options.

There are other places to gain access to a loan. You need to keep your eyes open, when the private market tightens the amount of money they are willing to lend oftentimes you can more easily qualify for an SBA loan. So if your bank says no don’t give up to easily especially if all of your financials are strong. So when you are looking for a business loan make sure that you have your company looking the best that it can financially and present the lenders with a solid business plan.

The Changing Role of the Telephone – Now A Huge Impediment to Business Productivity

Is telemarketing a dying strategy? For this business owner, the telephone represents the biggest distraction of my workday, rattling my nerves with its startling clamor, bringing my productivity to a screeching halt, and breaking my train of thought sometimes never to be recovered after its insolent intrusion into my silent workplace.

When the “do not call” lists were first established, I eagerly signed up. There is nothing more annoying than receiving a sales pitch by phone as we sit down to eat dinner, especially an uninvited one! Of course, since I also run a business, I still receive my share of telemarketing interruptions since the “do not call” registry is only for personal use. Still, there are plenty of loopholes which make some telemarketing calls legitimate regardless of whether your personal phone number is on the registry, or not.

According to the FCC, these types of calls are still allowed:

• Calls from any organization with which you have a pre-established business relationship.

• Calls from anyone who has been given prior written permission.

• Calls which are not commercial.

• Calls on behalf of tax-exempt non-profit organizations.

While I am a bit more forgiving about such interruptions to my business since I sometimes need to make phone calls myself, with each passing day, month and year, I find myself less motivated to pick up the phone for fear of inadvertently annoying someone in the process. And when I do make the call, my first statement is: “I’m sorry to bother you. Am I interrupting anything?” Luckily, with the lone exception of one person I do business with presently, everyone I deal with is reachable by email.

Email has changed the world, at least my world, and it surpasses the telephone in a very important way. It provides written documentation of what is being communicated, a legal basis for review, should any questions arise in the future about what was said.

Recently, I was scolded by a client with whom I have since severed ties, because she accused me of shirking my duties by refusing to “take notes” while she delivered complicated and contradictory work instructions by phone. I had suggested that she please email me those specifics, citing the benefits I mentioned above. Claiming that writing is not her strong suit, (nor is any kind of communication, I might add), she resented my reminder that we may need a legal document with which to clarify our plan, email being the ideal solution. The reason I decided to terminate our working relationship after only a year’s time was based on her penchant for claiming I did not do as she had asked and therefore she did not owe me any fees for work done. Yet, having stood my ground and convinced her to email me, her convoluted instructions distributed over a series of obtuse, unrelated, undefined messages were enough to stymie even the most lucid among us. I had really tried to work with her but in the end I simply had to give up. She was impossible.

I say this with more than 35 years of experience behind me and hundreds of satisfied clients who praise me, some of whom I still work with after all this time - and, all of whom pay me without question.

Given that a phone conversation is easy to misinterpret and details easy to forget without something written to which to refer, especially after the passage of time, there is something else which has transpired which has basically changed the way phones are used in today’s world.

I saw this coming years ago, back when I was young, naive and inexperienced in sales of any kind. Prior to the popularity of the Internet and email, I was responsible for ad sales in an expensive military yearbook called The West Point Howitzer. The ideal advertising candidate was one of the American national defense companies which usually was represented by a large advertising agency. My job was to find the proper contacts within the company, within the agency, or both. With little to go on other than my own personal intuition that a particular company might want to reach tomorrow’s military leaders from West Point, I found myself conversing regularly with switchboard operators who would put me through to someone’s voice mail. My days were consumed with delivering creative messages, sometimes rambling on for several minutes, only to be met with complete failure to elicit any kind of response. I used to call it “getting lost in phone limbo.” The phone became the ultimate instrument of evasion: Just leave a message and don’t hold your breath. In the few instances when some kind soul would actually call me back, it was to tell me that I was calling the wrong person and it was not their job!

Lately, however, there has also been a shift in culture, largely because of text messaging and social networking. It is the rare individual who prefers direct contact nowadays. Those who cling brazenly and stubbornly to traditional use of the phone call are possibly guilty of only seeking personal entertainment, at the expense of everyone else’s convenience. According to a March 18, 2011 New York Times article by Pamela Paul which appeared in the Sunday Styles section, Nielsen Media reports that, “even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.” Quoting this article further, one professional quipped, “I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.’ Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’ “

I thought I was the only one shunning use of the telephone: ironic for someone who runs a marketing business and doesn’t even own a cellphone! Yet, it is hard to believe use of the phone is on the wane as I overhear people obnoxiously conversing while driving, shopping, dining or waiting in line oblivious to or in spite of anyone within earshot.

I get three kinds of telemarketing calls to which I am now the master of evasion: Requests to purchase a product or service for my own business or for any one of my clients’ businesses; Requests to donate; Requests to participate in a survey. Some of these calls are made by live people. But, lately, more and more of these calls are automated. I couldn’t be more pleased about this. No longer must I draw from my reserves of pat statements which stop the caller dead in his tracks, unable to proceed through the roadblock I have presented. The automated calls need no business decorum, proper etiquette or courteous protocol whatsoever. The only action required is to hang up. End of interruption.

In those cases when there is an actual person on the other end, frequently from some Asian or other remote location, I utilize the following reply: “I’m sorry. What is your deadline? Are you able to fax or email me a written request so that I may present it at our meeting for all to review?” For Survey Requests: “I’m sorry. I don’t have time to participate at this time. Can you try me at another time, please?”

Although they say they will, none ever bothers to call me back. Mission accomplished.

In all the years I have been orchestrating marketing strategies, telemarketing has not been one I have recommended. But I do see its role, or the role of making a phone call, in certain situations which include asking permission to send an email; asking for or verifying contact information; asking for remittance of a late payment; and, verifying receipt of emailed or mailed material. If deadlines are involved, sometimes there is no other choice but to call someone to learn of their timely decision, with all calls prefaced by the appropriate apologies.

Other than that, for this marketer, telemarketing only serves to disrupt my concentration, demanding that I stop what I am doing to put an end to its rude auditory interference. From that perspective, I am hardly in a cooperative frame of mind to listen patiently to its message, consider its value and conclude a transaction. Compared to the convenience of email, where I can choose when I want to take the time to review its contents, the days of telemarketing (and possibly direct mail, the postal service, printed yellow pages and printed business stationery, among others), in my opinion, may be numbered.