Data is the new oil – what grade is yours?

Bill Bryson’s book “One Summer: America 1927” provides a fascinating insight into the world of Aviation in the “roaring 20’s”. Aviators were vying to be the first to cross the Atlantic from New York to Paris, a challenge that took many lives, most of which were European.  

Bryson tells us “The American flyers also had an advantage over their European counterparts that nobody yet understood. They all used aviation fuel from California, which burned more cleanly and gave better mileage. No one knew what made it superior because no one yet understood octane ratings – that would not come until the 1930s – but it was what got most American planes across the ocean while others were lost at sea.

Once octane ratings were understood, fuel quality was measured and lives were saved.

We’ve all heard that data is the new oil. To benefit from this “new oil”, you must ensure you use “top grade” only. It can make the difference between business success and failure. It is also a prerequisite for Regulatory compliance, (GDPR, Solvency II, FATCA, Dodd Frank, Basel III, BCBS 239 etc.). Thankfully, like octane ratings, we know how to measure data quality using 6 primary dimensions: completeness; validity; accuracy; uniqueness; timeliness and consistency. For more details see my post: Major step forward in Data Quality Measurement.

I also explore this topic in my post Russian Gas Pipe and Data Governance.

What happens in your organisation? Do you measure the quality of your most critical data, or do you fly on a wing and a prayer? Please add your comments below.

Major step forward in Data Quality Measurement

How tall are you?
What is the distance between Paris and Madrid?
How long should one cook a 4.5Kg turkey for – and at what temperature?

Image of measuring tapes courtesy of pixabay
Quality data is key to a successful business. To manage data quality, you must measure it – Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

We can answer the above questions thanks to “standard dimensions”:

 

Height: Metres / Feet
Distance: Kilometres / Miles
Time: Hours & Minutes
Temperature: Degrees Celsius / Farenheit

Life would be impossible without the standard dimensions above, even though the presence of “alternate” standards such as metric Vs Imperial can cause complexity.

We measure things for a reason. Based on the measurements, we can make decisions and take action. Knowing our neck size enables us to decide which shirt size to choose. Knowing our weight and our waist size may encourage us to exercise more and perhaps eat less.

We measure data quality because poor data quality has a negative business impact that affects the bottom line.  Rectifying data quality issues requires more specific measurement than anecdotal evidence that data quality is “less than satisfactory”.

The great news is that 2013 marked a major step forward in the agreement of standard dimensions for data quality measurement.

In October 2013, following an 18 month consultative process DAMA UK published a white paper called DAMA UK DQ Dimensions White Paper R3 7.

The white paper lists 6 standard data quality dimensions and provides worked examples. The 6 are:

1. Completeness
2. Uniqueness
3. Timeliness
4. Validity
5. Accuracy
6. Consistency

The dimensions are not new. I referred to 5 of them in a blog post in 2009 There is little understanding among senior management of what “Data Quality” means.
The good news is that this white paper pulls together the thinking of many DQ professionals and provides a full explanation of the dimensions. More importantly, it emphasises the criticality of assessing the organisational impact of poor data quality. I include a quote below:

“Examples of organisational impacts could include:
• incorrect or missing email addresses would have a significant impact on any marketing campaigns
• inaccurate personal details may lead to missed sales opportunities or a rise in customer complaints
• goods can get shipped to the wrong locations
• incorrect product measurements can lead to significant transportation issues i.e. the product will not fit into a lorry, alternatively too many lorries may have been ordered for the size of the actual load
Data generally only has value when it supports a business process or organisational decision making.”

I would like to thank DAMA UK for publishing this whitepaper. I expect to refer to it regularly in my day to day work. It will help me build upon my thoughts in my blog post Do you know what’s in the data you’re consuming?

Hopefully regulators worldwide will refer to this paper when considering data quality management requirements.

Some excellent articles / blog posts / videos referring to this whitepaper include:

Nicola Askham – Data Quality Dimensions

3-2-1 Start Measuring Data Quality ()

Great Data Debate (2) Danger in Dimensions, Kenneth MacKinnon

How do you expect this paper will affect your work? Please share your thoughts. 

The dog and the frisbee and data quality management

The Wall Street journal reported it as the “Speech of the year“.

In a speech with the intriguing title “The dog and the frisbee“, Andrew Haldane, the Bank of England Director of Financial Stability has questioned whether the Emperor (in the form of ever increasing, ever more complex regulations such as Solvency II, BASEL III and Dodd Frank) is naked. He points out that the BASEL regulations, which have increased from 30 pages to over 600 pages completely failed to identify banks that were at risk of collapse, while a simple measure of the bank’s leverage ratio did identify them.

He also points out “Dodd-Frank makes Glass-Steagall look like throat-clearing.” The Glass-Steagall act of 1933, which separated commercial and investment banking, ran to a mere 37 pages; the Dodd-Frank act of 2010 ran to 848, and may spawn a further 30,000 pages of detailed rule-making by various agencies.

I recommend you read the speech yourself – his arguments, together with his wit are superb. I include a brief extract below:

‘In the UK, regulatory reporting was introduced in 1974. Returns could have around 150 entries. In the Bank of England archives is a memo to George Blunden, who was to become Deputy Governor, on these proposed regulatory returns. Blunden’s handwritten comment reads: “I confess that I fear we are in danger of becoming excessively complicated and that if so we may miss the wood from the trees”.

Today, UK banks are required to fill in more than 7,500 separate cells of data – a fifty-fold rise. Forthcoming European legislation will cause a further multiplication. Banks across Europe could in future be required to fill in 30–50,000 data cells spread across 60 different regulatory forms. There will be less risk of regulators missing the wood from the trees, but only because most will have needed to be chopped down.’

Brilliant !

Andrew Haldene is calling for more simple, basic rules. I agree with him,

I have worked in data management for over 30 years. The challenges I see today are the same challenges that arise time and time again. They are not Solvency II specific, BASEL specific, or Dodd Frank specific. They are universal. They apply to all critical data within all businesses.

The fundamental truth is “The data is unique, but the data management principles are universal”

It is time to stop writing specific data management and data quality management requirements into specific legislation.  Regulators should co-operate with the data management profession, via independent organisations such as DAMA International, to develop a common sense universal standard, and put the effort into improving such a standard.

What do you think? I welcome your comments.

Do you know what’s in the data you’re consuming?

Standard facts are provided about the food we buy

These days, food packaging includes ingredients and a standard set of nutrition facts.  This is required by law in many countries.

Food consumers have grown accustomed to seeing this information, and now expect it. It enables them to make informed decisions about the food they buy, based on a standard set of facts.

Remarkable as it may seem, data consumers are seldom provided with facts about the data feeding their critical business processes.

Most data consumers assume the data input to their business processes is “right”, or “OK”.  They often assume it is the job of the IT function to ensure the data is “right”.  But only the data consumer knows the intended purpose for which they require the data.  Only the data consumer can decide whether the data available satisfies their specific needs and their specific acceptance criteria. To make an informed choice, data consumers need to be provided with facts about the data content available.

Data Consumers have the right to make informed decisions based on standard data content facts

The IT function, or a data quality function, can, and should provide standard “data content facts” about all critical data such as the facts shown in the example.

In the sample shown, a Marketing Manager wishing to mailshot customers in the 40-59 age range might find that the data content facts satisfy his/her data quality acceptance criteria.

The same data might not satisfy the acceptance criteria for a manager in the Anti Money Laundering (AML) area requesting an ETL process to populate a new AML system.

Increasing regulation means that organisations must be able to demonstrate the quality and trace the origin of the data they use in critical business processes.

In Europe, Solvency II requires insurance and re-insurance undertakings to demonstrate the data they use for solvency calculations is as complete, appropriate and accurate as required for the intended purpose. Other regulatory requirements such as Dodd Frank in the USA, BASEL III and BCBS 239 are also seeking increasing transparency regarding the quality of data underpinning our financial system.

While regulation may be a strong driving force for providing standard data content facts, an even stronger one is the business benefit that to be gained from being informed.  Some time ago Gartner research showed that approximately 70% of CRM projects failed.  I wonder were the business owners of the proposed CRM system shown data content facts about the data available to populate the proposed CRM system?

In years to come, we will look back on those crazy days when data consumers were not shown data content facts about the data they were consuming.

What is your undertaking-wide common understanding of data quality?

Do you have an undertaking-wide common understanding of data quality?  If not – I suggest you read on…

When a serious “data” problem arises in your organisation, how is it discussed? (By “serious”, I mean a data problem that has, or could cost so much money that it has come to the attention of the board).

What Data Quality KPIs does your board request, or receive to enable the board members understand the problem with the quality of the data? What data quality controls does your board expect to be in place to ensure that critical data is complete, appropriate and accurate?

If your board has delegated authority to a data governance committee, what is the data governance committee’s understanding of “Data Quality”?  Is it shared across your organisation?  Do you all speak the same language, and use the same terminology when discussing “Data Quality”?  In brief – are you all singing from the same “Data Quality Hymn Sheet”?

Why do I ask?

Solvency II – What is your undertaking wide common understanding of Data Quality?

For the first time, a regulator has stated that organisations must have an “undertaking-wide common understanding of data quality”.

Solvency II requires insurance organisations to demonstrate the data underpinning their solvency calculations are as complete, appropriate and accurate as possible.  The guidance from the regulator goes further than that.

CP 56, paragraph 5.178 states:  “Based on the criteria of “accuracy”, “completeness” and “appropriateness”… the undertaking shall further specify its own concept of data quality.  Provided that undertaking-wide there is a common understanding of data quality, the undertaking shall also define the abstract concept of data quality in relation to the various types of data in use… The undertaking shall eventually assign to the different data sets specific qualitative and/or quantitative criteria which, if satisfied, qualify them for use in the internal model.”

Business Requirements should be clear, measurable and testable. Unfortunately, the SII regulator uses complex language, that make SII Data Quality Management and Governance requirements wooly, ambiguous and open to interpretation.  My interpretation of the guidance is that the regulator will expect you to demonstrate your “undertaking-wide common understanding of data quality”.  

What might a common understanding of data quality look like?

Within the Data Quality industry, commonly used dimensions of data quality include.

  • Completeness
    Is the data populated ?
  • Validity
    Is the data within the permitted range of values ?
  • Accuracy
    Does the data represent reality or a verifiable source ?
  • Consistency
    Is the same data consistent across different files/tables ?
  • Timeliness
    Is the data available when needed ?
  • Accessibility
    Is the data easily accessible, understandable and usable ?

Little did I know at the time I wrote the above blog post that a regulator would soon require organisations to demonstrate their understanding of data quality, and demonstrate that it is shared “undertaking wide”.

How might you demonstrate that your understanding of data quality is “undertaking-wide” and “common”?

You could demonstrate that multiple “data dependent” processes have a shared understanding of data quality (processes such as CRM, Anti Money Laundering, Anti Fraud, Single View of Customer etc.)

In the UK, the Pensions Regulator (tPR) has issued record keeping requirements which requires pensions companies to measure and manage the quality of their schemes data.  I believe the Solvency II “independent third party” will at least expect to see a common understanding of data quality shared between Solvency II and tPR programmes.  

What do you think? Please share…

Data Governance – Did you drop something?

Welcome to part 5 of Solvency II Standards for Data Quality – common sense standards for all businesses.

Solvency II Data Quality - Is your data complete?

Solvency II Data Quality – Is your data complete?

I suspect C-level management worldwide believe their organisation has controls in place to ensure the data on which they base their critical decisions is “complete”. It’s “applied common sense”.

Therefore, C-level management would be quite happy with the Solvency II data quality requirement that states: “No relevant data available is excluded from consideration without justification (completeness)” (Ref: CP 56 paragraph 5.181).

So… what could go wrong?

In this post, I discuss one process at high risk of inadvertently excluding relevant data – the “Data Extraction” process.

“Data Extraction” is one of the most common business processes in the world.  Data is commonly “extracted” from “operational systems” and fed into “informational systems” (which I refer to as “End of Food Chain Systems”).  Data Extraction is usually followed by a “Data Transform” step to prepare the data for loading into the target system. I will discuss “Data Transformation” risks in a later post.

If the data extraction can be demonstrated to be a complete copy – there is no risk of inadvertently omitting relevant data. Few data extractions are complete copies.

In most instances, data extractions are “selective”.  In the insurance industry for example, the selection may be done based on product type, or perhaps policy status.  This is perfectly acceptable – so long as any “excluded data” is justified.

Over time, new products may be added to the operational system(s). There is a risk that the data extraction process is not updated, the new products are inadvertently excluded, and never make it to the “end of food chain” informational system (CRM, BI, Solvency II, Anti-Money Laundering, etc.)

So… what can be done to manage this risk.

I propose a “Universal Data Governance Principle” – namely: “Within the data extraction process, the decision to EXCLUDE data is equally important to the decision to INCLUDE data.”

To implement the principle, all data extractions (regardless of industry) should include the following control.

  1. Total population (of source data)
  2. Profile of source data based on the selection field (e.g. product type)
  3. Inclusion selection list (e.g. product types to be included)
  4. Exclusion selection list (e.g. product types to be excluded) – with documented justification
  5. Generate an alert when a value is found in the “selection field” that is NOT in either list (e.g. new product type).
  6. Monitor the control regularly to verify it is working
So – ask yourself – Can you demonstrate that your “data extractions” don’t overlook anything – can you demonstrate that “No relevant data available is excluded from consideration without justification (completeness)”?
Feedback welcome – as always.

FSA SII progress review findings – More Data Governance required

February 2011 – UK Financial Services Authority publishes findings of their Solvency II Internal Model Approval Process (IMAP) thematic review. 

Worryingly, but not surprising are the findings that data management, data quality and data governance are areas requiring most attention: I include specific paragraphs below:

3.2 Data management appeared to be one area where firms still have comparatively more to do to achieve the likely Solvency II requirements.

3.15 Data quality: Few firms provided sufficient evidence to show that data used in their internal model was accurate, complete and appropriate.

6.10 We witnessed little challenge or discussion on data quality at board level. We expect issues and reporting on data governance to find a regular place within board and committee discussions. Firms need to ensure that adequate and up-to-date quality management information is produced. It is important that the board has the necessary skills to ask probing questions.

See the full report at:

http://www.fsa.gov.uk/pubs/international/imap_final.pdf