Friday, 7 September 2012

Closing the gate

By now, you should all be aware that I like technical stuff. When I was 12, my parents bought me a Sinclair ZX81 (1k) home computer. I enjoyed learning BASIC programming. After a brief dalliance with CB radios (ground planes, aerial technology, bands in megahertz, phonetic language), I got an ORIC 1. Forth was a truly strange language to me, so I quickly swapped it for an Acorn Electron.

There was no stopping me. If it flashed or did something interesting, I was impressed. When other kids were hanging around the local newsagents trying to get adults to buy them cigarettes, I was hanging around Radio Shack buying a new RS232 interface lead. Not much has changed since. I work with computers. I love the work. I like helping people with their technical difficulties, and I like fixing things. So it was truly amazing when a walk with my family taught me a valuable lesson late last year.

I was working on selecting data quality software, and really enjoying the challenge of liaising with lots of vendors. But it is safe to say that while I was walking with the family, my mind was elsewhere, evaluating the pros and cons of various systems. We walked past a field with sheep in it. On that gate there was a sign saying, "Please close the gate."

I stopped and realised that all my thoughts about software had been purely based on one half of the data quality journey. Data quality software is the trigger that instigates remedial action (the gate is open and your sheep have escaped). The other half of the data quality journey is being able to implement preventative actions (keeping the gate closed).

Preventing problems from happening has to be the first goal of a data quality team. Leveraging technology to ensure problems are prevented is a question of clever system design. But sometimes, all it might take is an old metal sign screwed to a gate.

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