Data is gold in our increasingly digitised world, just as the value of gold is only realised in the refinement process. Data needs to be refined to unlock its real value. Unrefined data can damage businesses, their competitiveness and ability to capitalise on opportunities.

Good quality data, which is refined, can be leveraged to improve competitiveness, decision-making and profitability, writes Sean Taylor, co-founder and director of Insight Consulting.

The pace at which data is being collected and stored is unprecedented, and this will only continue to accelerate. Modern organisations expect data to drive innovation, progress and competitiveness, however data is only as good as its quality.

Poor-quality data can severely damage a business’s ability to make good, informed decisions. This has a direct bearing on performance, resulting in lost revenue and missed opportunities, possible reputational damage and increased operational costs trying to deal with data errors. Beyond this, poor data quality may well lead to misguided strategic investment decisions. It is abundantly clear that businesses must prioritise high-quality data.

So, how do businesses end up with poor-quality data? Human error, outdated systems, inconsistent data-entry protocols and a lack of data governance lead to duplication, inaccuracies, inconsistencies and conflicting data sets. Without proper data governance there is no standardised process for maintaining high-quality data.

Maintaining good, clean data requires implementing essential key performance indicators (KPIs). These are: relevance, integrity, completeness, uniqueness, timeliness, validity, accuracy, consistency, accessibility and reliability. A good data partner will assist an organisation with tracking these KPIs on an ongoing basis to maintain high-quality data.

* Relevance is crucial as it ensures that data aligns with the context in which it is being used. Irrelevant data can clutter the analysis process and hinder effective decision making. It is advisable for companies to consistently assess their data collection standards and clearly define their data needs. Furthermore, eliminating unnecessary data is equally important.

* Integrity plays a vital role in fostering trust and compliance, encompassing practices such as data encryption, access control measures and regular integrity audits to detect any breaches.

* Completeness ensures that all necessary data elements are present, which is essential for analysis and informed decision making. This involves mandatory fields in data entry systems, conducting audits to identify any gaps and automating the process of collecting relevant information.

* Uniqueness evaluates whether there are any duplications within the dataset, which can impede analysis and lead to inefficiencies. Organisations can mitigate this risk by leveraging de-duplication tools, establishing protocols for data-entry procedures and conducting audits to identify and eliminate duplicates.

* Timeliness reflects how up to date the data is. Outdated data may result in missed opportunities and flawed decision making.

* Validity ensures that all collected data adheres to specified parameters and formats. Invalid information can introduce errors and distort interpretations. Implementing checks and utilising machine learning can enhance the accuracy of entering data.

* Accuracy pertains to how the collected data mirrors reality. Implementing cross-checking mechanisms, using authoritative data sources, and regularly verifying data against external benchmarks are crucial for maintaining data accuracy.

* Consistency speaks to the uniformity and reliability of data, across datasets and systems. Discrepancies can lead to confusion and undermine confidence in the data. Developing data governance frameworks harmonising data across systems and utilising master data management (MDM) solutions can enhance data consistency.

* Accessibility relates to how readily available and easily accessible data is to authorised users. Inaccessible data may cause delays in decision-making processes and impede operations. Implementing user protocols for accessing data is essential for enhancing data accessibility.

* Reliability ensures that the accuracy of data remains consistent over time. Performing assessments of data quality, adopting maintenance practices for managing data and promoting a culture of responsible data stewardship are essential for upholding the reliability of the data.

To address dirty data and build trust, organisations should:

* Implement Data Cleaning processes – Regularly clean the datasets by eliminating errors, duplicates and outdated information using tools designed for this purpose.

* Standardise data entry – Set guidelines for entering new data to maintain uniformity within the database. Make sure to train your staff on these guidelines and implement data validation rules to enforce them.

* Enhance data governance – Establish a comprehensive framework for data governance that includes standards for data quality, policies and procedures. Designate data stewards to drive data quality and ensure compliance with governance protocols.

* Leverage technology – Make use of data management technologies such as master data management (MDM) and data integration tools to maintain consistent and accurate data across different systems.

* Promote data literacy – Educate employees on the significance of maintaining high quality data. Foster a culture where everyone takes responsibility for ensuring data quality.

The pursuit of high-quality data is an ongoing process that requires a strategic approach and commitment from all stakeholders.

Organisations can build a robust data quality framework by focusing on data quality KPIs, while implementing best practices such as data governance, automation, training, regular audits, data integration and a culture of continuous improvement, will help them significantly improve the quality of their data.