One of the biggest challenges facing businesses today is how to keep data relevant. The information collected one day could be out of date months, weeks or even days down the line as people move; businesses shut down and start up; and street, city and even country names change.
Anyone heard of the Blue Ribbon Sports, BackRub or Brad's Drink? Could you locate Constantinople, Peking or New Amsterdam on a map? The businesses have become Nike, Google and Pepsi-Cola, and the cities are now Istanbul, Beijing and New York. It happens more often than you might think: a Deutsche Post Data Quality Study revealed that in just one year in Germany, 300 place names changed; there were 21,000 streets which were new, changed their names or consolidated; and 8 million people moved to a new address.
On average, data changes at a rate of 2 per cent per month. Data quickly becomes inaccurate if it isn't carefully maintained. Change is the only constant, and our continuous physical and digital mobility presents business with a major challenge - and expense. As custodians of data, businesses have a regulatory and moral duty to manage, maintain and update the information they hold on individuals.
Penalties for misuse of data are higher than ever under GDPR. Participants in Gartner's 2016 Data Quality Market Survey estimated that the average annual financial cost of poor data quality for their organisations rose by 10 per cent in 2016, to $9.7 million, up from $8.8 million in 2015. Conversely, keeping your data current reduces risk and provides you with revenue opportunities: Accenture found that 65 per cent of customers are more likely to buy from a business that remembers their past purchases, and the same percentage are more likely to shop from a business that sends them relevant and personalised communications. These actions are only possible with accurate data.
It's no surprise, then, that businesses are concerned about the quality of their data: 70 per cent of participants in a recent Forrester study felt that improving the quality and accuracy of this data was their biggest challenge. 69 per cent felt that maintaining the quality of the data as it changes was a problem, and the same proportion named improving their ability to detect and track these changes as a particular challenge. Organisations have access to huge data volumes, but this benefit is lost if they don't have the people, processes or technology in place to update and act on this information quickly
Automation is solving the problem
96 per cent of respondents in the Forrester study said that timeliness and accuracy issues with customer data acquisition were big problems. As data multiplies at a breakneck speed and regulations enforce tighter rules around data management, businesses are faced with the huge challenge of maintaining data accuracy. Automation is solving this challenge-head on, as vast amounts of data are processed automatically rather than manually. Data automation eliminates inaccuracy, removes routine tasks and eradicates manual changes. It enables and accelerates the swift processing of vast volumes of data, and it provides a foundation for better understanding and forecasting.
What you'll lose from automating your data…
Any kind of automation involves a degree of ‘letting go', whether it's automating your smartphone app updates or your smart TV's software. But our hesitations are overruled by the benefits of the updates being hassle-free, simple, fast and effective, as they allow your devices to operate at maximum efficiency. It's the same with enterprise data automation.
You'll eliminate the need for tedious and time-consuming manual updates. You'll remove the painstaking task of making regular updates and deletions to records; you'll no longer have complaints from sales and marketing teams struggling to connect and engage with clients using data which isn't fit-for-purpose; and you'll free up your team's time to focus on growing your business
…And what you'll gain
Automation gives you current, relevant data. Far from losing control over data, you'll actually gain a far greater level of management and ownership. With this data, you'll develop a deeper understanding of your customers. You should see faster ROI by ensuring your customer engagement strategies are built on accurate information, accessing the right people, at the right time, across the right channel, with the right message. You'll boost your personalisation strategies, improving the customer experience; you'll create more accurate forecasts, built on real-time information rather than legacy data; you'll improve your compliance efforts and will gain peace-of-mind from knowing you're holding the correct information on individuals; you'll improve decision-making, and your risk-management strategies will be founded on truths, not estimates; and your data will be there, ready for you to extract immediate insight, when your teams begin work each day.
The role of data marketplaces and SDKs in data automation
Data marketplaces are simplifying data purchasing, and are making it easier for users to automate processes once they have licensed the data. Marketplaces and the tools they provide are becoming increasingly popular, with 99 per cent of organisations say they're open to buying data on data marketplaces, and 54 per cent planning to increase spend there, according to the Forrester study.
Users can trial, select, purchase and download their data, and some data marketplaces have an additional tool in their data armoury: a software development kit (SDK, aka a devkit), which allow users to receive products and updates automatically. Historically, developers have used SDKs to quickly enable function commonality, enrich software applications with advanced functionality and create a shorter time to value.
Most bulk datasets today are delivered through file transfer protocols (FTPs), a web browser or other type of provisioning mechanism that requires manual download. Each time an update is available, the end user must manually log into the system, download the product update and manually input it into their internally-specified location. SDKs eliminate this process completely. Rather than requiring manual steps for the download process, SDKs allow a user to run a script that finds and fetches the data and automatically places it in the user-specified location.
As enterprises identify better, simpler, faster ways of managing the volumes of data which flow through their organisations, automation will secure its position in business strategy as one of the organisation's most effective processes.
Dan Adams is VP of data product management at Pitney Bowes
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