So What?

One of the most frustrating questions I can hear as a data quality practitioner is simply two words; “so what?”

It’s not that it’s a difficult question to answer (although attributing costs and impacts can be challenging) it’s just that I can’t help but find this question at times a lazy and ignorant response to the raising of a data related issue. It often belittles a problem and inadvertently endorses a culture that is largely indifferent to data.

Maybe it again comes down to the fact that data is not tangible and that senior management, as a general collective, are not culturally or practically used to thinking about data related matters. (Perhaps this will change in time, as there is a gradual generational shift)

What reaction would follow news related to a tangible (and more easily valued) asset? Say there was a fire in a property; I doubt that the immediate response would be “so what?” It would more likely be a machine-gun set of questions: Was anyone hurt? How bad was it? Is it still operational? What’s the impact? What’s the cost to repair? Does our insurance cover it? How did it start? How do we stop it happening again? Have we checked all our other properties?

All valid questions and all equally valid in relation to a data related issue, so why the difference in reaction?

It could of course be down to the way the issue is presented. The challenge is in the common default fascination for managers to have endless metrics and evidence without the understanding of what it is telling them. As I stated in my previous post, there is a natural tendency to take data for granted and by focusing on the minutiae of metrics people can get lost and confused and consequently miss the point; cue the “so what?”

You need to force people to step back for a minute and think about things more conceptually; step back to a level where you are sure they understand the impact and then you can bring it slowly forward again in order to properly quantify and analyse the issue. As with the fire there will be warning signs: the smell of burning; or the sight of smoke long before you feel the heat. Of course it would be easier if management could also understand these signs, but they often don’t and therefore the controls and alarms you put in place need to clearly convey the danger in a way that is understandable to all.

We need to be able to turn the “so what?” into the “tell me more”.

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