Monday, June 29, 2009

Sun Tzu and the Art of Data Quality

Having read Sun Tzu’s Art of War I’d like to say its genius in its simplicity. This is a book that is referred to by many people to many things. Politicians, business leaders, professionals and even educators refer to the man’s ancient wisdom. This time I’d like to refer to it for - the Art of Data Quality.

Sun Tzu’s book has many teachings one can examine, we’ll only draw out a few and how they can be related to data quality.

“The art of war is of vital importance to the State.”

Liken State to Enterprise, and we come to understand that data quality is a critical and vital importance to any organization that handles data. Pointing out the following three examples and we see just how bad data can impact the organization and/or it’s customers, the life blood of any organization.

1. Millions of dollars giving away to a pair of customers who flee the country.

2. A database that holds 7 versions of one customer.
3. A unique health number assigned to two children living 90 miles apart.

“It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

It can not be neglected! You know that, the people that read this post know that. When things are a matter of life and death, it must become viral, it must be communicated. Bring it to the forefront of this week’s status meeting, bring it to the board room. If you are IT talk to the business people about it, if you are business talk to your IT team. It’s everyone’s job.

People like Jim Harris, Dylan Jones, Daragh O’brien and so many more. They all get it, they talk about it, they live and breathe it. After reading their posts do YOU say great post and leave it at that, or take it and tell others in your enterprise about it, spread the word, tweet it, present it, talk about it. Remember, Data Quality cannot be neglected. Billions of dollars are wasted each year because of poor data.

“In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.”

Sun Tzu dedicated a section to the length of military campaigns, and the importance of having shortened campaigns vs. long ones. This can be applied to data quality as well. The importance here is every organization has limited resources, (people, money and time). You must use your resources effectively so that your teams’ moral does not become demoralized because the bad data is still occurring or re-occurring after a lengthy cleansing project. You must work efficiently and effectively so that the bad data can be isolated and removed, whether it is a small billing adjustment that went wrong or a terrible boondoggle that was created, and let’s face it we’ve all seen boondoggles.

“If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

In every case where you have bad data sitting in a repository you will want to clean it. In preparing for battle you need to know two things. Your own level of skills, can you clean the data yourself or do you need expert technical help. The other you must know the data. You must understand the data warehouse and it’s structure, else you will succumb to the situation. You may even be the cause of future situations of poor data. So plan and be prepared.

In conclusion I’d like to remind you all that,

“The art of data quality is of vital importance to the Enterprise.”


  1. Another great post Daniel,

    To paraphrase the closing lines of The Art of War:

    "Hence it is only the enlightened executive and the wise leader who will use the highest intelligence of the enterprise for purposes of data quality, and thereby they achieve great results. Quality is an important element in data, because upon it depends an enterprise's ability to succeed."

    Best Regards...

    Jim Harris

  2. Thanks Jim,

    I may steal your comments for a another recap of Sun Tzu's teachings.