As a public records user, you bear the enormous responsibility of relying on data to make decisions that will directly affect people’s lives, as well as ensuring the integrity of key government programs, institutions, and businesses. To do your best, you need the highest quality data – and you need it now.
Yet, bad data is so prevalent that most organizations waste a tremendous amount of time and money dealing with it; some estimates place the cost at “20% of revenue or 50% of day-to-day costs as a starting point,” according to Thomas C. Redman, Ph.D., author of Data Driven. Redman, who has worked with data for more than 30 years, consults with Fortune 100 corporations to improve the quality of their data and has earned the nickname “The Data Doc.”
Redman’s most recent book, Getting in Front on Data, highlights several valuable insights for data users. Here are some of the most useful, along with tips to help public records searchers put them to use.
Communicate your needs
To ensure you get the right data at the right time and in the right format, you first need to know how to be a good data customer. What exactly is a data customer? Redman says that it’s anyone who uses data to do their jobs and make decisions; in other words, all of us. So, whether you’re a risk compliance officer, banker, state fraud investigator, attorney, or anyone who needs access to public records, recognize that you are a data customer.
As a data customer, you have a role in ensuring that you obtain quality, relevant data. The best way to achieve that, says Redman, is to properly articulate your needs rather than your requirements. The difference between needs and requirements?
Consider Redman’s example of an average consumer’s need for a quality car windshield. Rather than stating specifications, “We need the glass to be polarized, 0.17” thick, tempered for 40 hours in an 800 degree Thermaflex kiln…,” the consumer talks about what they need the glass to do. “We need to be able to see out in all kinds of weather. We want to be kept safe. We don’t want to be blinded by the sun…”
A public records user may state their needs as:
- I need to know if this individual is safe to take on as a new client
- I need to know exactly where this particular individual works and resides
- I need to know if this person really is who she claims to be
Which would be far more effective than sharing your possible requirements such as:
- I need a web search to verify this person’s identity
- I need all motor vehicle records for this individual
- I need a full credit report on this person
In Redman’s words, “It’s the manufacturer’s job to sort out the requirements for producing and installing a windshield that meets your needs.” For public records users, this means partnering with reputable data suppliers who deliver reliable information to aid in your decision making, rather than spending your precious time hunting down various records from multiple sources and then sifting through it all to find what you need. Which brings us to our next important insight.
Actively manage your data suppliers
There’s a difference between data creators and data suppliers. Redman states that data creators are “anyone who fills in a form, populates a database, crafts a management report, or makes a decision.” Data suppliers are “the person or group through which you obtain the data you need. A data supplier can be a data creator, but not always.” Based on his definitions, public records technology providers like Thomson Reuters can be categorized as data suppliers.
Without explicitly saying so, Redman also recognizes that public records users most often need data “created by many different groups and accessed through intermediaries.” He advises that if you obtain data “via a contracted…data provider…you should generally expect [them] to work with the data creator on your behalf.”
To effectively manage a data supplier, Redman advises that you require that they:
- “Measure the quality of the data they provide.” For public records providers, that means your provider should be able to prove the data it delivers to you is timely, accurate, relevant, and credibly sourced.
- “Identify and eliminate root causes of error.” Redman adds that “most data is in pretty bad shap …solving these problems is the management challenge of the 21st” When it comes to public records providers, errors in the data they provide can originate from myriad sources, including a reliance on outdated databases and irrelevant sources, as well as a lack of access to records above the local or state level. The best providers take measures to maximize the delivery of error-free data by pulling records from reputable sources (i.e., there can be a big difference between an individual’s name on a social media account and that on their driver’s license), and securing access to live gateways to public records sources to ensure you’re receiving the most current information.
- “Help shut down hidden data factories.” Redman describes data factories as workarounds people invent to make up for bad data they receive from their supplier. For example, some public records searchers will turn to search engines for “quick” or “easy” searches. This can introduce poor-quality data into the decision-making process that can have a snowball effect. High-quality providers have intuitive interfaces that make searching fast and simple, encouraging users to embrace them.
Managing data suppliers shouldn’t monopolize your time. However, if you’re not receiving quality results, it’s time to take charge. As a data customer, it’s your right and responsibility to ensure your data suppliers understand your needs and meet your expectations.