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For someone who writes regularly about the merits of good quality data it is galling to have to admit that I am now a serial perpetrator of poor quality data. To be specific, the village where I live in Wiltshire (about 100 miles west of London, near Bath, for those of you that don’t know the UK) is now in California. Not to mention Massachusetts.
Let me explain. My wife’s niece lives in the United States and we decided to send her family a gift voucher from Macy’s for Christmas. However, you do not only have to provide the recipient’s details and your own credit card information in order to do this but also your own name and address. But it seems to have never occurred to Macy’s that anyone outside the United States might want to send a Macy’s gift voucher. So it wouldn’t accept my actual address. What was I do? Not send this gift to my wife’s family and preserve data quality integrity? Or make both my niece-in-law (and Macy’s sales department) happy but upset its IT people? I confess that I took the easy road and lied. Not that lying was easy. I tired to pretend that I was in the US armed forces in Europe on the basis that it might allow a European zip code but it wouldn’t. In the end I opened up my card file at random and picked a card, which happened to have a zip code in California so, as far as Macy’s is concerned my village is now near San Francisco.
Worse, I have to confess (again!) that this is not the first time. Because I travel to Boston a lot I took out a Borders Reward card earlier this year. However, once again, I had to enter my address details on line. Worse, the data quality used by Borders is much better than Macy’s. The latter appears to only check your zip code while Borders actually checks to see if your address is valid and if your phone number corresponds to your address. It took me ages to make up a combination that the web site would actually accept.
So, there you have it: I am a serial perpetrator. Worse, having chatted to a number of people about this I have discovered I am not alone! It turns out that lots of people do it: if they want something on-line and the software won’t let them have it and then they’ll invent stuff so that they can get it.
The interesting question is who is to blame? And I don’t think it’s me or my fellow travellers. I think it is companies who don’t think before they do stuff. Whether it’s the developers or the business users in those companies I don’t know but they seriously need to think about the applications they implement and not just technical details, if they want to ensure that they have decent data quality (or sales statistics for that matter—how many Europeans send Macy’s gift cards each year? Clearly, Macy’s has no idea).