Trust in your data: Best practices for data hygiene


You’re only as good as your data — and data hygiene is how you maintain resilience in the face of today’s business challenges. Is your data leading you in the right direction?


Poor data leads to revenue loss of 12% for the average company. It’s our role as human operators to interpret data and make the best decisions we can, but we need to trust what we’re working with. Today, we’re generating more data than anyone could have believed achievable, making it possible to decode the future and make intelligent decisions at speed. But without access to data that fits the GfK standard — data that is cleaned and properly sourced at capture — or proper data hygiene, your storehouse of data may yield ill-timed or, worse, inaccurate insights.

“As a data and analytics company, we know how vital having clean, up-to-date data is across the enterprise,” says Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva, GfK’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Without proper data sourcing or data hygiene processes, businesses run the risk of inaction or flawed decision-making leading to a declining position in the market.”

Given the importance of data hygiene, this guide illustrates what it is, what it isn’t, why it’s important, and how to construct a proper data hygiene practice within your organization.

What is data hygiene — and why it’s essential

Trustworthy data is at the heart of success for your business and enforcing data hygiene — the ongoing processes through which you ensure your data is accurate and up to date — is a prerequisite for this success. A strong data hygiene practice is rooted in standardization, verification, and removal of irrelevant data. This means, through audits, training and other processes, you’re able to clean your data in a way that ensures it is error-free and in the best possible shape to be translated into business insights.

AI can process vast quantities of data faster than any other method, but while AI and automation can do the heavy lifting, they’re only as good as the inputs. “Having data ready and in a standardized format so that you can analyze it is critical,” advises Warren Saunders, President Global Sales, GfK.

Data hygiene helps businesses decode the future

Imagine trying to type an email with several keys missing from your keyboard or attempting to finish a jigsaw puzzle with duplicate pieces. In both cases, your chance of success is nearly impossible. This is the risk businesses run when launching a data program without considering data hygiene — confusion, inefficiency, and missed opportunities.

When building the construct for data hygiene within your company, first focus on who’s responsible for data hygiene and how it ties into the big picture. Does a center of excellence model work better for your organization, or have you found more success with individual ownership? How will you use insights gathered through your data hygiene practice to make corrections — like removing certain fields on form-fills or restricting inputs to a particular format — on a continuous basis?


Regardless of the answers for your business, the benefits of having accurate, up-to-date data at your fingertips are clear. “People who are using data instead of going on gut instinct and personal experience seem to be much more agile, way more responsive,” says Antony Cousins, CEO of Factmata. “And that agility is the key to resilience. Agility requires speed, it requires working in real-time, it requires data. It requires people to take this approach across the whole culture. So, when it comes to resilience, data is resilience.”

Why data hygiene is growing in importance

The pace of digital innovation is likely to continue its growth, as spending on digital transformation is predicted to reach $2.3 trillion in 2023. As data gathering increases and more organizations embrace data-centric decision-making, data hygiene becomes more important — else you run the risk of encountering a snowball effect where data errors lead to more data errors. Embedding data hygiene processes in your organization now is how you stay ahead of the curve, and there is perhaps no better place to start than investing in expertise.

Your data team should understand how to control the power of AI and automation to seek out issues in advance, from broken links rising from http turning into https or global one-off events affecting people’s stances in the short-term. Making sure your workforce is trained to handle the data, or recruiting employees with the right experience, will unlock innovations, grow revenue, and help them become “better knowledge workers,” says Christoph Auer-Welsbach, Co-Founder, Kaizo.


How to act on data hygiene

In a world where 20% of email registrations contain errors , you should maintain higher data standards. Set clear rules and guidelines for recording fields and other inputs, and make sure these are enforced. “When your data is connected, clean, and current, your entire business has the chance to be truly connected,” says Shashi Seth, GM and Senior Vice President, Oracle Marketing Cloud.

Finally, make sure you have a data hygiene mindset — and that you view data hygiene as a regular, ongoing practice rather than a one-off task. Ask questions about the data you may normally take for granted. Interrogate the sources, the processes, and the parameters. Use automated software to flag duplicates, broken links and email addresses, and inconsistent entries. This is how you unlock the ability to act on insights exposed by up-to-date data at scale.

"How do companies deliver top-notch experiences?” asks Seth. “The answer is simple — they know a lot about their customers, the market, the conditions, and the competition. This game is all about data, and the intelligence built on top of it."

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