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Q&A: Combating the data trust crisis

data woman
(Image credit: Future)

Jean-Michel, Senior Director Data Protection, Talend, talks about combatting a data trust crisis, its causes, the pandemic’s effect on it and its importance in overcoming the crisis.

1. What is trusted data, how can businesses achieve it?

We can define trusted data with the five Ts. When applied correctly, this means that data is thorough, transparent, timely, traceable, and tested to be considered reliable.

To break this down, thorough data is clean and complete with no missing or duplicated entries. If data is transparent, it is accessible and understandable by everyone, easy to search and find. Being timely means data is readily available for real-time insights. For data to be traceable one must know the source and who collected the data, factors which organizations don’t always consider. Lastly the data needs to be tested, with collaborative feedback used to provide data ratings.

A clear example of data meeting these five Ts arose out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Early on in the pandemic, nations were providing and sharing an array of different data. As a result, outputs were questionable, hard to understand, outdated and were therefore untrusted. Johns Hopkins University worked to create a dashboard of data, collating timely data from a range of the best sources all around the world. What they’ve done is much more than a dashboard, they created an end-to-end data pipeline that brings together data in a way that respects the five Ts. By doing that, the institution has now become a highly trusted source for Covid-19 data. Not only has the university’s reputation has been boosted dramatically but humanity can now rely on a solid and continuously progressing foundation of data to fight the pandemic.

As data volumes grow exponentially, businesses need to establish similar foundations using the right tools that measure data against these five Ts and produce easy to consume, clear data ratings. This will provide a single source of truth, capturing and integrating data from millions of data points across any organization daily.

2. You say businesses in the UK are facing a data trust crisis, what is the cause of this crisis?

Data is now an integral part of our economy and society, it is used for everything. From the pandemic to a business process, we want to use data to control and drive solutions. Going one step further, many now expect AI and automation to make data-driven solutions almost immediate.

However, there are blind spots when it comes to using data. There’s nothing to rate the data itself – there is a lack of standards, and nothing to tell us which data is trustworthy and which is not. The result: a massive trust crisis has been brewing. Within businesses we can see this crisis first-hand, with valuable time being spent challenging the data presented as businesses lack a single point of truth. We can also see the trust crisis expressed in society as a whole, as distrust grows over the output of the media and scientists alike.

We saw concrete examples of that during the pandemic. The Lancet had to retract a published Covid-19 study and change its editorial policy as a result of an article that was based on questionable data. Public Health England had to admit that they lost track of 16000 coronavirus cases as a result of using Excel to pull critical track and trace data together. 

As we increasingly replace human decisions with data-based decisions we need to have trust in the data that is enabling and supporting those decisions. There needs to proof that this data can be trusted, however in many cases this is lacking.

3. How is the pandemic affecting the data trust crisis?

The pandemic is only exacerbating the problem of the data trust crisis. Businesses and governments alike need high volumes of trusted data in real time to be able to perform effectively. Take retailers for example, suddenly their customers’ behavior changed rapidly – pretty much overnight. They quickly mitigated to online retailers, buying fewer pure fashion items, more fitness equipment and sometimes much more toilet roll. Ultimately many retailers’ supply chains could not keep up with the shifts in customer demand because their data-driven insights were incomplete and lagged behind. Their data could not be trusted, something that could be detrimental to business survival in this current climate.

At Talend, when the pandemic arrived, we quickly migrated to online. As an organization that prioritizes data we were able to work with our employees to flex with changing behaviors. What we have seen as a result of the pandemic is that many businesses said they were prepared for any rapid shifts or changes in behavior but in most cases, we are seeing that they were not - and that they were not able to harness the power of data. This probably surprised quite a few businesses.

While some people are questioning the importance of big data to help us deal with the effects of the pandemic, it is obvious that real-time insights are what is needed to give direction to decision making, as what is effective today may not be effective tomorrow.

4. How important is trusted data to the success of a business?

Not so long ago most businesses believed data quality was not their concern, it was like cleaning the office at the end of the day, it happened but you didn’t need to be particularly concerned with how it happened. However, now, not only do businesses understand the value of data, they also understand the risks and problems that can arise if data is not handled correctly or trusted. The idea that data is an asset is finally becoming mainstream and businesses want to take ownership of the data. This is an important trend, as we will see businesses big and small, altering technology, process and people to maximize data’s value.

A good example of this can be seen by those data-savvy businesses championing the rise in data consumers and citizens around the world. Data is a shared asset, which means that everyone should understand the benefits, but also the duties. These businesses are actively helping customers to take control of their data, and in doing, sharing the duties associated with data management to better improve data quality.

Inaccurate, incomplete, delayed, untraceable, untested data ultimately leads to poor operational decisions, a negative impact on the bottom line, and even discrimination and bias against staff and customers. For example, if a sales function doesn’t care when they enter customer contact data into the CRM system, this will result in problematic customer experiences. There could be delays to customer payments because their billing information is incorrect or missed sales opportunities because the customer cannot be targeted properly for personalized offers.

We are definitely seeing a shift in the priority attached to data, with businesses not just wanting data-driven insight but also trusted data. However, this is not happening in all areas of a business at once, it is appearing in the form of a maturity curve. Companies are rolling out data-driven initiatives department by department and working to ensure that the data is trusted. Once businesses see the reward from these successful initiatives they quickly look to expand elsewhere as they realize that by prioritizing trusted data, they get the intended results. For example, a large retail company is using our platform for their brand-new Cloud Data Warehouse. This is an enterprise project, but they rolled it out with a “fast start, fail fast, build trust” approach. They wanted to prove the value of trusted data with a concrete business use case. Starting with a department that had just hired a data analyst and a data scientist, this data savvy line of business could establish data as a team sport, and therefore quickly achieve results. Not only has this created a success story, but also the foundation for rolling out this collaborative approach across the other lines of business.

5. How is Talend helping businesses overcome the data trust crisis?

Digital transformation has been a key focus for businesses in recent years and yet almost half of them fail in their digital transformation efforts. With data distrust hindering digital progress and examples of the trust crisis arising across the board, Talend saw a clear opportunity to help solve the problem. This coupled with customer feedback pushed us to create the Talend Trust Score.

We want to act as a bridge to help businesses overcome the data trust crisis. In September this year we introduced an industry first measure of data trust. We wanted to create a tool that is automatic and makes data health easy to understand and consume, not just for data professionals but for all workers. This will allow a business to look at its data and force it to address any levels of distrust in the data because they will be able to see clearly where it is lacking.

If we think about Airbnb as an example of a business helping to overcome a trust crisis in a particular field, that business has taken something that was almost never done - letting strangers into your home to stay or staying in the home of a stranger - and turned it into a common and secure practice. Airbnb worked as a platform to build trust with both homeowners and renters to make this possible. They created a simple, easy to understand and self-managed platform that allowed trust to be established effectively. What if sharing data between providers and consumers could be as simple.

This is why we truly believe that in the importance of the Trust Score. Our goal at Talend is to establish the standard for rating any data within an organization and therefore helping build trust. And this will be a game changer for data-driven businesses.

Jean-Michel Franco, Senior Director Data Protection, Talend