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Subscriber Data Management

How Dirty Is Your Data?

For all the talk about "big data," in telecom and elsewhere, we haven't heard much about "clean data" -- what it is, what it takes to create, and what it can power.

But as tw telecom inc. (Nasdaq: TWTC) CEO Larissa Herda told me last week, taking the time to create a single "clean" database of customer and network records has enabled her company to move faster than its competition to offer new products and services to its customers and, in the process, drive revenue growth. (See Doing the Dirty Work Pays Off.)

It's hard to imagine a single telecom network today -- other than those run by the very smallest rural carriers -- that isn't in some way a combination of multiple companies, assembled by mergers and acquisitions. In each case, the merged companies each have their own disparate systems and disparate data, all of a different age, quality, and format.

What tw telecom chose to do was take the risk that a brief period of downtime would pay off in the long run, if it was able to create truly clean data in the process. Other companies are making or struggling with that same kind of choice, weighing in the process the near-term pain versus the longer-term advantage.

Some of those companies probably face a different set of challenges to those faced by tw telecom -- maybe they are assimilating older companies, more local exchange records, or very old databases. The cost of creating clean data isn't going to be the same for every player.

But the advantage of having that data at hand in the era of on-demand services, mass personalization and virtualization is clear for every telecom service provider going forward.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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Phil_Britt 3/27/2014 | 9:03:28 AM
Dirty Data is Worthless You're right that clean data is essential. Just a .01 percent error factor becomes huge when you consider how much data the telecom companies, financial services firms and other users of Big Data handle every day.

Data scrubbing needs to be an ongoing process, otherwise once there's an error in data collection, it stays forever. I still get mail and some phone calls for my father, who died 13 years ago. 

It's also important for consumers to ensure the companies keep data clean (by inspecting bills, statements, etc.) because any errors can hurt credit scores -- as in the case of a delinquent bill under William Anderson rather than William Andersen.
Kruz 3/27/2014 | 9:39:48 AM
Costly Dirty data in the big data era generates certainly unnecessary costs: Data that is not clean can be nasty as it might involve your company in a misleading or ineffective marketing campaign. 
Ariella 3/27/2014 | 10:05:20 AM
Re: Costly It's not always a simple matter to clean the data, but getting bogged down in the irrelevant details can distract people from the pertinent applications of the data. 
Liz Greenberg 3/27/2014 | 12:45:33 PM
Re: Costly @Kruz...it is costly in more ways than just a possible misleading marketing campaign...it can slow resolution of customer issues.  I have witnessed this with both AT&T as well as PG&E.  PG&E had records so bad that when we had a power outage in our neighborhood, PG&E kept insisting that our entire block was located a mile away and that we still had power.  Seven (yes 7) days later, my neighbor blocked a PG&E truck from leaving a block close to us and insisted that the PG&E employee drive one block over to resolve our issue.  Meanwhile, PG&E still insisted that we always had power!

Clean data is a requirement, not a nicety and more companies should learn from tw telecom.
sam masud 3/27/2014 | 2:45:54 PM
Re: Dirty Data is Worthless Phil,

I'm wondering just how big Big Data will grow, particularly once this Internet of Everything gets going...
Phil_Britt 3/27/2014 | 3:02:18 PM
Re: Dirty Data is Worthless Sam,

Maybe they will have to change the term to Really Big Data.

Seriously, the more things that get interconnected, the less interested I am in them. I like the idea of Nest, for example, but if anyone could crack the info, they could tell when I'm on vacation. Not that I have anything worth stealing, but I don't want someone knowing all of my actions.

I go out of my way sometimes just to be disconnected, but that's getting harder and harder to do, and I don't think I'm the only one that feels that way. That's not to say that there can't be some advantages to the interconnected home, as AT&T shows via its Smart Home commercials. 
t.bogataj 3/27/2014 | 3:23:21 PM
Naitiv spikrz Dirty or clean -- data ARE clean or dirty. Surprise, but "data" is plural for "datum" (singular).

You all should have known better, you... English speaking natives. Presumably.

T.
mendyk 3/27/2014 | 3:27:53 PM
Re: Naitiv spikrz Data is plural in Latin, which of course is a dead language. English still be living and breathing, and data (as a collective noun) has been treated as singular for a few decades now.
sam masud 3/27/2014 | 3:30:27 PM
Re: Naitiv spikrz Geeks are not grammarians--No Henry Higgins there :-)
sam masud 3/27/2014 | 3:33:21 PM
Re: Dirty Data is Worthless What worries me is that all the data companies will have on us/me with the Internet of Everything. Will they share my data with me--for free? I doubt it. No way will I invest in Google Glass even if Google is working with my favored shade maker (Ray Ban).
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