Clean Data is Hard

Clean data is hard. Starting with it, maintaining it, and living with it. Having clean data can be the difference between a successful business application implementation and one that struggles.

As we start every project – even during the sales cycle before we close a deal – we talk about data. Always one of the first things we try and advise our clients about. There is not a lot we can do when the data is pulled from other sources to be brought into CRM. We can advise, cajole, beg, and pout but the client has to put in the time, effort, and sometimes money to get their beginning data set as clean as possible.

Ok, let’s start with the happy thought that the client has invested that time, effort, and money to provide us with a clean data set we can bring into CRM. Great! Outstanding! Atta boys all around.

What now? How do they keep it from being gummed up 1 year from now?

One of the great features of Dynamics CRM is the tool provided to add fields, change dropdown values, and change forms. This can also be one of the leading causes of bad data in a system later. Just because your Admin can easily add a new field, doesn’t mean they should. Just because they can very easily change dropdown values, doesn’t mean they should.

We ask our clients to answer three questions every time they want to change a data set (schema for you tech folks). They need honest, real-life answers to these before deciding that change is good in the system.

Who enters the data? Who maintains the data? Who consumes the data?

Think of your data as a three legged stool. Each of those legs represents one of the data questions. If one of the legs is weak or missing, the data fails and the stool collapses.

Who enters the data – if you want to add a field, someone has to collect and enter the data that will be in that field. Will the data be collected as you work in the system or will it be imported from a list? Will your team enter the data easily or will you have to beat them with a stick to enter it?

Who maintains the data – data by its very nature, can change. Who is responsible for changing the data in your system and how often? Will it be an automated process or manual? If it gets out of date, how does that impact your ability to use it?

Who consumes the data – If you are going to spend the time and effort to add the field(s) and then enter and maintain the data, who actually needs it and will be happy it’s there? How do you need to consume it, with a chart or view or report?

This is just the beginning of how you keep your data fresh and relevant so a year after you go live, you aren’t struggling with bad data again. Proper use of the duplicate detection rules, a plan to deactivate and then purge old data, flagging data on a regular basis that hasn’t been updated, exception reports – all of these go into a good data governance plan.

If nothing else, remember the three-legged stool. Start and end there and you are on your way to properly maintaining your data and keeping your users happy.

xRM3 – Because business is not two-dimensional.