The top five information management meltdowns of 2010

SearchDataManagement.com takes a look back at some of the most remarkable information management blunders of 2010.

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The staff at SearchDataManagement.com searched the globe for some of the most remarkable information management screwups of 2010 -- and boy, did we come up with some real humdingers. Some are humorous, some are frightening and at least one is just downright ridiculous. But, according to experts, they all could have been avoided with proper attention to data governance and data quality best practices. In no particular order, here are...

our picks for the top five data management meltdowns of 2010.

Congratulations, sir. You’re pregnant.

A 50-year-old man from Birmingham, England, was understandably surprised last month upon receiving a letter from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital informing him that he was pregnant with twins. The letter asked Hilton Plettell to come in for an ultrasound and explained that he could expect the two bundles of joy in about seven months. Plettel only visited the hospital once --15 years ago for a kidney-stones operation. His wife was quick to point out that the babies are not hers.

While Plettel’s story may be worth a laugh, it’s really not that surprising at all, according to Andy Hayler, president and CEO of The Information Difference Ltd., a London-based consulting firm that focuses on master data management and data quality issues. Hayler, whose wife is a doctor, said that similar information management problems occur regularly in hospitals.

Patient data is kept in lots of different places,” he said. “So, there is an excellent chance that someone is going to pick something off the wrong database or address a letter to the wrong person.”

There is software available that can help organizations avoid sending letters to the wrong people and other information management errors, but it’s important to know that oftentimes technology alone will not solve the problem, added Tony Fisher, president and CEO of DataFlux Corp., a Cary, N.C.-based data management systems provider.

“It’s not a technology issue at this point for something like the ‘pregnant’ male patient,” Fisher said. “It’s far more to do with internal data processes, the ability to recognize data as critical, and to apply the appropriate data governance.”

Donald Duck flies coach

Executives at Norwegian Air were miffed last year when a special offer designed to generate interest in its new route between Copenhagen and Karup went horribly awry. The airline has accused its competitor, Cimber Sterling, of purchasing at least 650 discounted tickets for the new route to prevent actual customers from taking advantage of the deal. Norwegian Air workers figured out the problem when they noticed that most of the tickets were booked under questionable names like Donald Duck, Alotta Fagina and Bjorn Kjos, Norwegian Air’s CEO.

Fisher said the phony names could probably have been detected sooner with data management technology that cross-checks names against a huge database of business rules and other information. While that technology is relatively simple, Fisher said that getting organizations to add information validation to their workflows can be very difficult.

 “Unfortunately, it really takes something like an embarrassing moment or a huge compliance fine or something like that to get the executives of an organization to understand the importance of their data infrastructure,” he said.

Flawed data integration leads travel giant to major accounting errors

Paul Bowtell, the CFO of TUI Travel Plc., was forced to resign at the end of 2010 after a faulty integration of an acquired company’s accounting system caused the travel giant to overstate its 2009 financial results by £117 million -- about $181 million. A company official said the accounting problems stemmed from several factors, including “weaknesses in the legacy systems we chose to use in the TUI UK business."

Bowtell’s resignation may be unfortunate, but it should help ensure that TUI Travel’s new CFO does not let similar mistakes occur, according to Hayler’s line of reasoning. Hayler said that human nature prevents people from paying full attention to data management issues unless their job or financial well-being is on the line.

“If you’re a salesperson doing some data entry and doing telesales, you care about getting the customer’s credit card number or account number because you get commission on [the sale],” Hayler said. “But [do you really care about] all the other stuff that marketing wants to know about their background and demographics and all that stuff? Well, not really.”

Bank pays for lax oversite

British financial regulators fined the state-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland £5.6 million (about $8.9 million) last August for failing to screen loan seekers against an official sanctions list created to make sure that banks do not finance the enterprises of known criminals and terrorists.

Aside from being a bit scary, this story illustrates that data management issues related to compliance requirements and risk mitigation are among the most serious, according to Fisher.

“For an organization to succeed, they really need to have operational efficiency, they need to have a good handle on customers and revenue and they need to have a good handle on risk mitigation and compliance,” he said. “But the risk issues are the ones that I’d be most concerned about.”

Federal Aviation Administration reveals an information management mess

Also from the scary file, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) raised eyebrows last month when it revealed that registration records for approximately one-third of all private aircraft in the United States are outdated and inaccurate. The FAA says it is now working to fix the problem by seeking out and re-registering aircraft. Aviation experts warned that the inaccurate records could conceivably help criminals and terrorists evade capture.

“The underlying issue here is one of just lousy data management practices,” Fisher said. “Things are getting better, but you can look at these kinds of stories and see that we’re still a long ways from having a groundswell of movement towards better data management practices.”

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