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Data quality in focus: GDPR puts data professionals out front for commercial decision-making

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Keeping data clean is at the core of compliance and competitiveness, says Stuart Huke. And the professionals who are focused on data quality are now at the top table of businesses across the UK and Europe – thanks to the GDPR spotlight.
data quality
If GDPR has done one thing, it has brought the potential and the pitfalls of data to the fore, giving a much stronger voice to those within the organisation responsible for data, to change the mindset about how it can not only aid the business to operate lawfully, but also improve commercial decision-making and improve engagement with customers.

A wise marketing professional once said: “Data ages like fish not wine…it gets worse as it gets older, not better.” In fact, it has been widely accepted for many years that data decay occurs at rates between 2% and 5% annually (depending on the type of data you have). Now, given the dramatic rise in the number of customer interaction touchpoints, driven by digital, I suspect today this figure is much higher and will continue this upward trajectory. Of course, this isn’t news to any data professional and neither is the concept of the data cleanse, but GDPR is putting new focus and impetus on marketers to discipline themselves to do something to stop the rot.

Data quality doesn’t have a deadline

It is not uncommon for organisations to have their data annually spring-cleaned. But the reality of this approach is that you can only be sure your database is up to date one day of the year. And right now, the date that businesses of all shapes and sizes have wanted to be sure their data was in perfect condition for was 25th May 2018 (D-Day for GDPR compliance). Yes, it was important to strive to meet the deadline, but it wasn’t the same as the Millennium Bug (for those of you old enough to remember it!) when on 1st January 2000 everyone breathed a sigh of relief that their IT systems had not collapsed.

GDPR is more about a way of life rather than a one-time event, as Article 5 of the regulation specifies: that data must be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date. So, keeping data clean needs to become a habit and not a chore factored in as a once-a-year spend.

Give your data a health-check

The truth is that GDPR compliance really isn’t the main reason for having a clean and healthy database. You don’t aim to go to the gym three times a week and eat five fruits and veg every day just because of government guidelines – you do it because you see benefits in how you look and feel. The same is true of data; follow the rules and keep your data fit for purpose and the rewards will follow – keeping you better connected with customers, ensuring marketing expenditure isn’t wasted on unnecessary fulfilment costs, safeguarding brand reputation from sending ill-timed and inappropriate communications and, of course, regulatory compliance.

So, where do you begin if regular data cleansing isn’t something you do?

To continue the health and well-being analogy, you need to have a baseline of your overall fitness to help set priorities and goals, and in the data world that means an audit. Such an audit isn’t only about understanding how ‘clean’ your database is, it is about challenging what you do today, how you should do it tomorrow and how to be prepared. It is at this early stage that it is wise to enlist the knowledge and expertise of a data specialist. Doing so can save huge amounts of time and money.

What should a data audit look like?

  • What data do we keep within the business? Are we permitted to keep it?
  • Where is it stored? It is secure?
  • Who has access to the data?
  • Do we need it? (Many organisations have a large volume of lapsed customers and, if no legitimate interest can be demonstrated, this could be a breach of GDPR)
  • How do we intend to use the data?
  • How are we going to keep it cleaned regularly?
  • How are we going to keep data in compliance with ongoing regulation?
  • How is the database structured and does it lend itself to a potential influx of subject access requests?

The next step is to get the database thoroughly cleansed and suppressed, which to the uninitiated means running the data against files including the UK’s PAF, TPS, MPS, HLR, NDR, GAS and NCOA, as well as basics such as name and address validation. Don’t worry, only the data specialists conducting your cleanse need know what all these acronyms mean! Put simply, these identify people who have moved home, those who have passed away, people who do not wish to be contacted via telephone and many more criteria. This is vital if you are going to safeguard against data decay, given that each year in the UK there are 2.2 million home moves and 502,000 people pass away, on average.

Cleansing is as important for B2B as it is for B2C

If you are a B2B organisation there are also files that will allow businesses that have ceased trading to be removed from the database, as well as identifying those that have moved location and tracking decision-makers who have moved. A project recently completed with TradePoint (the trade-only arm of B&Q) highlights how data cleansing is equally important for B2C and B2P organisations:

The company had two million members’ address records, which were thoroughly cleansed and re-formatted to PAF standards. As a direct result, its email open rates are 10% higher than the industry average and click-through rates to the website increased by 3%.  It was also able to save money by minimising mailing wastage. Lisa Wise is the marketing manager at Tradepoint and she commented: “Since we started working with DBS we have cleansed, verified and enhanced our customer data, allowing us to talk to our customers about the things they care about. The results have been fantastic and we are in a strong position to meet GDPR legislation going forward.”

The future is only going to be data

If you think reliance on data is high now, you only need to look at the conversations being held regarding the potential applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning to see that this is only going to increase. In fact, right now there is a swell of activity in the UK retail sector introducing AI applications in areas such as personalisation across digital channels. These applications will succeed or fail, depending on the quality of data they have to work with. Your organisation may not be taking such a step now, but having a data quality programme in place will mean it is ready if and when the time comes.

GPPR has focused the collective minds of organisations on data and those who may have previously expressed little or no interest in marketing data are now taking a keen interest in how it is managed and used. But this is to be embraced as an opportunity to take a seat at the top table of corporate decision-making.

The data you hold and how it is used should never place a company at risk; it should be a prized asset that delivers demonstrable value – time and time again.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Stuart Huke
Author: Stuart Huke
Business director at DBS Data |

Stuart Huke works alongside the senior management team at DBS Data and is responsible for the development of existing and new business relationships, with a focus on delivering data-led campaign solutions for B2B and B2C businesses. He joined DBS in 2018 and has enjoyed a rich and diverse career in data, spending more than 15 years in broking, media planning, data cleansing and analytics.

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