You may have good governance practises and robust data management processes in place but who is actually keeping your data updated; or in some cases not? Whilst most organisations agree that having a data quality framework in place is the right thing to do, are those same organisations putting enough effort into understanding what really happens in the processes around data operations?

Whilst a good amount of effort may be placed into the creation and implementation of procedures and governance around roles and responsibilities, which may well create good data management practices, I often wonder how much time and effort is spent on actually understanding what actual data operations are taking place outside of the governance framework. Over the years I have experienced ‘unauthorised’ or ‘non-responsible’ staff making updates to data-sets for many reasons. The reasons they may be undertaking data management activities may be because they:

  • are simply fed up of seeing mistakes time and time again;
  • have no faith in those with the responsibility to do so;
  • believe they are the only ones who know the ‘truth’
  • think they are more efficient and/or effective;
  • used to be in this type of role and still have a passion for good quality data;
  • are impacted by data quality upon their decision making role;
  • believe no one else is;
  • etc., etc.

Although the desire to get the data corrected may be a commendable act in itself but what actual harm are these activities having? Theses harmful activities may result in:

  • the overwriting of more accurate data;
  • the disruption of data improvement initiatives. The faults may have already been discovered and corrective actions about to be implemented;
  • masking the root causes;
  • placing a ‘local accent’ on the information and therefore creating non-conforming data records;
  • creating an assumption to others that data gets automatically updated so leaving others to think ‘why should I bother’

There is no single solution to these problems but the first step in understanding what is going on is to fully investigate and then ask why?

A common reaction to unauthorised data editing is to simply revoke the rights. This can be done by monitoring staff movements and system access records. However, before any drastic action is taken I would advise that an organisation understands why this happens! The very same people who are making unauthorised edits may be those that have the answers to many problems, they may even be the ‘friends’ and not necessarily your ‘foes’: seek to understand why they feel it is their duty to update data. You may find out where the governance gaps are; the lack of robust procedures; where ‘responsible’ people are diverted onto other duties, etc. You may get lucky and find willing volunteers to participate in controlled data improvement projects.

Rules and regulations; roles and responsibilities (governance) are good things to have in place but these should not encourage a feeling that there are ‘data police’ watching what’s going on as this will just drive things underground or discourage openness and willingness to resolve issues. Asking a simple question such as ‘Why?’ may give you more insights than you realise. And, if in return a promise to improve things is given then you will have more people ‘buying-in’ to the data quality ethos.

Understanding people’s behaviours towards data can provide a lot of insight that assessments, audits and other more formal investigations may not bring: We all shudder when we are told you are being audited. Data and Process Advantage have created a guide to the behaviours of people around managing data, this is called The Data Zoo and is available to download.

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