Business users right to good data plumbing

Jim Harris started an excellent debate recently here centred on Rick Sherman’s quote “Data quality is primarily about context not accuracy.  Accuracy is part of the equation, but only a very small portion.”

@SteveTuck‘s excellent blog post yesterday, on “The US Army, Plumbing & Burning Bridges” reminded me of the ‘plumbing analogy’ comment I added to Jim’s debate, which I copy below:

Jim, this is a great debate, about a serious topic for Data Quality and BI professionals.

The bottom line from a business perspective is always “just enough is good enough.” The challenge for the Data Quality profession is to make the business case for “just enough” to be clearly defined in terms of measurable dimensions.

Ultimately, the context is most important – i.e. the use to which the information is put. However, the final presentation of the information is dependent on the underlying data, and as Stephen Simmonds points out, many other factors such as Timeliness, Format, Usability and Relevance.

Let me give you a simple analogy. Suppose there is a requirement to water a new lawn. The context is that 500 litres (or liters for our US friends) must be sprayed on the new lawn. One might assume that so long as the water is delivered, the requirement is met…

However, what if:
– A well had to be dug to provide the water?
– The water contains contaminants that will kill the new lawn?
– The hose contains many leaks, and leaks 5,000 litres in delivering 500 (incurring 10 times the water charges)
– etc.

Watering a lawn is such an everyday occurrence, that one reasonably assumes that the required ‘plumbing’ is in place to deliver clean water in a cost effective manner.

Business people have the right to assume that they can access the information they require. Business people have the right to assume that the required ‘plumbing’ is in place to deliver ‘clean’, ‘complete’, ‘accurate’ ‘timely’, ‘relevant’ ‘usable’ information in a cost effective manner.

Thus we need to split the “plumbing’, which should be standard across all applications, from the business specific, “bespoke by nature” part of data / information management. The business specific stuff, the ‘context’, the ‘really important stuff’ simply cannot happen if the ‘plumbing’ is not in place.

So, which is more important, the context or the accuracy? Which is more important, the chicken or the egg?

Does the data plumbing in your Enterprise support a lush lawn of quality information?  Or is your data plumbing so inadequate that your business users are left scratching around in a barren desert of information?   To learn how to assess the data plumbing in your Enterprise click here:

@SteveTuck‘s blog, quotes Ron Bechtold, Chief Data Officer for the US Army, who firmly believes that technology is only there to support the business process. “IT only provides the plumbing,” says Bechtold.

I agree with Ron Bechtold – Comments welcome – Ken

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2 Responses to Business users right to good data plumbing

  1. I like the analogy Ken, and fully agree. To add to the analogy, if I may, you need to ensure that the plumbing you ‘install’ and manage is fit for purpose. In line with “just enough is good enough” statement, you don’t want to install plumbing fit for a football pitch, when all you want is to water a small family garden, and visa versa. However, you need to ensure that your plumbing is extendable, you need to be able to add more capacity and open the tap for when your family garden grows into the size of a football field. Good blog post!

  2. Jim Harris says:

    Excellent post Ken,

    You know I like a good analogy and you have come up with a great one here.

    Following Charles’s lead, I would like to add to the analogy as well.

    Once the “fit for purpose” plumbing is in place, be it for a football pitch (we silly Americans would call it a soccer field) or a small family garden, it is important to also build monitoring functionality into the system.

    For example, you need a timer set to water your lawn at regular intervals (and preferably not at 2am which is when mine goes off – stupid homeowners association) in order to maintain your “lush lawn of quality information.”

    Even better, would be a more sophisticated system that could monitor the moisture level in the soil and only activate the sprinklers when necessary in order to both maintain the lawn and conserve water.

    This would be akin to near real-time services preventing data quality problems before they happen (or mitigating their effects) as opposed to simply running a batch process that scrub-a-dubs the data every few months, or worse yet, buying one of those “lush lawns in a can” products that basically spray paint over the brown spots so that you can pretend to have a lawn, which is like pretending to have good quality data without having done any of the necessary work and ongoing vigilance.

    Best Regards…


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