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Should we buy data quality management tools or focus on policies?

Looking improve your data quality? Data quality management tools might not be the best answer. Find out why.

We use SAP as our ERP system. Our data quality efforts focus on master data and we do this by manually running query extract of the data, inspecting it and then making the corrections (passive data quality). Our data capture and load programs have good data validation logic/routines but they aren't perfect, hence the need to manage the back-end data.

The company is not convinced that an investment in costly data quality tools is necessary, but the overhead to...

manually administer data quality is huge and is producing sub-optimal results.

I have thought about trying to put a justification proposal together, but the buzz is that "it won't fly so don't waste your time." What steps would you recommend to help me improve our data quality, given the stated limitations?

Simple arithmetic (well, maybe not so simple): Data quality management software should be a reasonable alternative if the financial scope of the negative impacts of your current situation exceeds the cost of a better solution. In other words, if the costs of the time invested in manual extraction, inspection, cleansing/correction and reconciliation when the corrected SAP data is compared to the original captured data is greater than an automated alternative, then the alternative would be preferred. However, also recognize that there are startup costs as well as capital investment/licensing costs for tools, and even once you buy and install them, you need some expertise to make those tools do anything useful. In fact, from a cost perspective the tools approach may even be more expensive.

Here is a different suggestion: Instead of focusing on the tools approach, think about standardizing your data management and data quality policies and procedures, and review how your current processes could be streamlined, both in terms of maintaining the current manual methods and replacing them with new tools. This data governance assessment and standardization may provide a much greater lift in a shorter time frame in terms of data quality and data consistency improvement. Email me and let me know if that works, or if you have more questions.

This was last published in August 2009

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