Chapter 2: What in the World is Data Quality?

Tom Redman
3 min readNov 5, 2020


If I asked you for your address, you might say, “10 Main Street, Anytown, USA,” your correct street address.

Then I could respond, “Thank you.” Or I might respond, “No, I meant your email address.”

And you would say, “Ah, its

The vignette illustrates two very different aspects of data quality: The data being right, or correct, and the right data for the task at hand. While the street address you gave me may have been correct, it was not what I wanted!

We all need quality data both at work and at home. And we’ve all run into plenty of situations where the data is just plain wrong. So it is natural to focus much more about this first aspect of quality. But of course both “the data being right” and “the right data” are essential.

These observations lead me to the following definition: “Data are of high quality if they are ‘fit for use,’ by customers, in operations, planning, data science, and decision-making.”

The great Dr. Juran introduced the term “fitness for use” and here it embraces the dual notions of “the data are right” and “the right data.”

The other key concept is “customer,” anyone who uses the data.

Sometimes techies refer to people who use their systems as “users.” But it is worth noting that the only other industry that calls its customers users is the illicit drug trade.

I like the term “customer” better because it elevates the discussion.

HERE IS WHY THIS MATTERS TO YOU. You may not think of yourself as a data customer, but you are. And all the rights and responsibilities that entails. You have a right to know when the grocery store will have toilet paper, how many people in your town have had coronavirus, and when you will hear back in a job interview.

You also have a responsibility to make your needs known. If you’re not getting what you need, or don’t trust what you’re getting, say something. There is no need to get angry — start by very clearly expressing what you want. These rights and responsibilities are similar to those you have when you’re shopping for a new car.

HERE IS A SECOND REASON THIS MATTERS TO YOU. You should also view those who use your data as customers. And you have a responsibility to understand what they need and do all you can to deliver.

One final point. It is important to realize that you may have many customers for the same data, each with their own unique needs. One may focus more on “the right data,” another on “the data being right.” And one may view your data as outstanding, while another views it as poor. But in quality, customers decide, and you have to deal with it!

Missed Chapter One? Click here for: What is this “data” stuff everyone is talking about?



Tom Redman

“the Data Doc,” helps organizations chart courses to data-driven futures, with special emphasis on quality and data science.