If you don’t want garbage out, don’t put garbage in

garbage-truckThere is an old axiom in computing, called garbage in garbage out. Basically it boils down to if you put garbage data into your system, don’t expect anything useful to come out.

Some garbage data is pretty easy to spot, for example “Mr Jqwdgsg” is probably not going to be a real name, but selecting the suburb of Wanniassa in Perth might be a little harder to detect at a glance. Pro tip, at the time of writing this, there is no suburb of Wanniassa in the city of Perth WA.

Garbage data can make its way into a system in a variety of ways, through laziness of the data entry person, through entering test data into a live system or through enforcement of rules.

Laziness is relatively simple to deal with, give the data entry person an ultimatum to pick up their game or find a new job. Entering test data into a live system is also pretty easy to deal with, ask your IT people to set up a test database which allows you to play without causing damage. But when it’s due to enforcement of database rules it becomes a little harder to deal with.

Database rules are one of the powerful things about corporate databases which separates them from excel spread sheets. They can insure that you enter in a minimum amount of data to make the record viable they can insure that you can’t select options in the database which go against business rules and they can ensure that all business processes are followed.

But problems arise when database rules do not match the reality of doing business. In those cases your data entry people will no doubt have a bag of tricks to get around your business rules. Some of those can be pretty benign, such as selecting an option, saving the record, changing the option to the real thing and saving the record again. Through to the dangerous such as selecting customer preferences which the customer does not want, need or be willing to pay for, but can no longer be reversed within the database.

So this week, do a quick audit of your database rules, and then ask your front line staff what they think about each of them. No doubt you’ll get a surprise when you find out some of the tricks which your staff has to circumvent some of those rules.


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