Information-Driven Business
How to Manage Data and Information for Maximum Advantage

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The power of the crowd can improve your data quality
by Robert Hillard

Well thought through online strategies can do so much more than deliver high quality web sites for internal and external users. They can dramatically improve some of your business fundamentals. There are few things more fundamental than the quality of your data.

When people think of data quality they often focus first on customer data. One of the best ways to ensure that customer data is right is to provide a way for your own customers to update their details online. On its own, this is an important capability, but to be really effective it needs to be linked to something that the customer regularly does on the web, such as reviewing their accounts, orders or other interactions with your organisation. Truly effective businesses make updating customer details part of every interaction and available to all stakeholders in the customer, effectively building a Facebook-like facility for their customers identifying relationships (friends), preferences and activities.

Apart from enhanced customer service, it is worth remembering that it is much harder to maintain a fraudulent identify when you are connected through multiple relationships and you have to maintain an exponential number of fronts.

Business data includes much more than just customer details. Online collaboration both inside and outside the enterprise can enhance almost all data in some way. One of the most common problems businesses face is maintaining an accurate understanding of the definition of complex business terminology. Every organisation develops their own language and expects staff, customers and business partners to understand it. Worse, few maintain a dictionary of this language.

Consider creating such a dictionary, with components that are visible internally, other parts to business partners and a relevant subset to the world in general. To really leverage the power of the web, make this dictionary readily updatable (even using a wiki). While open to misuse, it is unlikely that internal staff or business partners who are easily traced will deliberately abuse the privilege. Online communities have shown that complex topics attract genuinely interested contributors who can often provide a better explanation to their peers that you could hope to publish either from an insight or simple labour perspective.

Finally having learnt to use the web to better maintain customer data and your data dictionary, it rapidly becomes obvious that many datasets would be candidates to be open to a wider community for monitoring, comment or even enhancement. Consider lists of branches, community contacts and products. In the last case, suppliers sometimes make changes which flow through your supply chain without being updated in online catalogues.

If there is one thing we’ve learnt, the fear that we feel about opening our content up for collaboration is often disproportionate to the real risk of misuse. If you succumb to this fear without carefully considering what you are worried about, then you’ll miss out on the power that the crowd can bring to our business.

Readers interested in these concepts should read further about opening up their data to the crowd in chapter 15 of my book, Information-Driven Business.

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