Data Hygiene Basics ALL Businesses Should Know

Data hygiene lies at the very foundation of good data analytics -- and thus, it lies at the basis of clear, actionable, and profitable business insights. Regardless of whether you work in Marketing, Human Resources, Finances, or any other field, making sure your data is clean and tidy is crucial for the success of your activity. 

Think of it this way. If your business was a pizza (sorry, foodie here), you would want the best ingredients (data) as toppings, both in terms of what you need for a pizza and in terms of their quality. Even more, you wouldn’t want your toppings to be a smoothie-like mush you just splash on top of the pizza. And you would definitely want to make sure they haven’t been contaminated with any kind of bacteria or virus. 

Obviously, you’d also want your ingredients to stay on your pizza and not be stolen away by some passerby who wants to bring them to their pizza or, worse, sell them to other pizza lovers. 

Now transfer all this into data hygiene and data management, and you will almost instantly understand why this is so important. 

But what are the data hygiene basics you should definitely keep in mind? 

Read on and find out more. 

What Is Data Hygiene? 

Simply put, data hygiene consists of a collection of processes that maintain your data safe, organized, and uncontaminated. 

You can collect data from various sources such as Market Research databases, Social Networks, or, even answers to in-house surveys. In practical terms, this means that every piece of information you collect or collate has to be validated and checked whether it's still useful for your organization or not.

So what does data hygiene exactly mean? 

It refers to the practice of keeping your data clean and well-maintained. While this sounds rather simple, the devil is in the details. Data is like a garden - it’s only as healthy as the effort you put into maintaining it. 

Why Is Data Hygiene Important? 

Think about it. Using high-quality data is what makes you a smart decision-maker. You need to know what's going on in your market, who are your customers, what sells well, and so on. Without having the right set of marketing/ customer/ employee data, it's impossible to make the right business decisions. 

Even more, just having the data isn’t enough. You need to make sure it's well-organized so that you can access it correctly and draw the right insight from it. Data hygiene allows you to make sure all the information stored in your database(s) is ready to be used. 

As mentioned above, this means that your data needs to be tidy and in its best shape possible. You will also want at least two points of contact with your data - one in each database in which you have stored it: external sales and CRM systems, as well as an internal customer database.

Aside from being able to gain better insights, data hygiene is also important because it can help you protect yourself from potential attacks or routine data loss. Making sure your data is stored safely is a quintessential element in the whole data cleaning process. 

How "unhygienic" is your data? 

That depends, but if you haven't been careful about how you collect data and if your database looks like a mess, it pretty much means you need to cleanse and organize everything. 

Data Hygiene vs. Data Management 

Although sometimes used interchangeably, data hygiene and data management are somewhat different in meaning. Data management is the process of creating, collecting, storing, and cleaning the data we use.

In some ways at least, data hygiene is one of the steps you have to take in data management. 

Data Hygiene vs. Data Quality 

Data hygiene and data quality are intrinsically connected. You can’t have one without the other, because quality data is always “clean”. However, one could argue that “quality data'' can be defined in many ways (and as such, a distinction has to be made between data hygiene and data quality). 

For example, quality data can be looked at from a business perspective (if it actually helps your business grow), as well as from a “hygienic” perspective (if it’s still up to date, if it’s well-organized, and so on). At the same time, unhygienic data is never quality data. 

Data Hygiene vs. Data Cleansing 

In essence, the two terms refer to one and the same type of activity: getting rid of “bad” data and making sure everything is secure, clean, and tidy in your databases. Both data hygiene and data cleansing are essential for pretty much any business. 

Data Hygiene and Data Management Best Practices 

First and foremost, data hygiene (and data management) are about making sure your data is safe and sound. This means that you need to protect it from possible attacks or routine data loss by making sure it's stored safely. Furthermore, it means that you need to have an actual plan in place to ensure that your data is stored both safely and in an organized way (for the reasons mentioned above in this article). 

That being said, what are some data management and data cleansing best practices you should keep in mind? 

Be Positive 

Yes, this might seem like an endeavor worthy of Atlas, but it needs to be done. And once done, everything will flow easier: your marketing efforts, how you manage your employee's data, how you organize your customers, and so on. 

Create an Actual Plan

Jumping into this without a plan is very much like jumping without a parachute: you (and your data) will inevitably hurt. 

Gather All Your Data 

If your company doesn't have a clear data collection policy and if it doesn't follow well-organized procedures, you might find yourself in the situation of having to collect data from multiple places. Some of them include your contacts, your leads and opportunities, and your accounts. Some of them may also be stored in different tools you use (like Dropbox or Mailchimp, for example), so it's important to assess this correctly from the very beginning. Even more, it's also essential to track where all your information is stored. 

Keep Your Business Goals in Sight  

If you want better automation in the future, for example, you should cleanse your data accordingly. 

Keep Regulations in Mind

Remember to keep in mind the different types of regulations like the GDPR or HIPAA, for example. Encryption and limiting who in your company has access to data are both important steps as well.

Categorize Your Data

When sorting out your data, classify it into three main groups: business-critical (for the information you need now), compliance (which you might need later to make sure you are compliant with different regulations), and unnecessary (data that's obsolete and isn't needed anymore). 

Data Backup and Recovery Procedures 

All the data you collect should be backed up and recovered in case of any event that requires you to restore the data. 

One Team, The Same Data Collection & Management Standards

Educate your entire organization on how they can be more aware (and responsible) about data collection and use.

It’s Continuous Work 

Constantly review and maintain your data cleansing. You wouldn't clean your clothes once every two years and keep on wearing them, right? The same goes with your data as well: establish clear, regular data cleansing and maintenance procedures everyone in your company has to abide by and you'll have less work next time you need to automate something or simply need to access a piece of information. 

Ease Data Access and Team Collaboration

Data access and team collaboration should be easy. Don't make it hard for everyone to access data. DO limit who has access to it, but be sure the processes you set in place for this allow everyone to easily access all the information when they need it. 

Easy to Understand Data Documentation 

Create data documentation, but make sure it's easy to understand. You don't have to speak data science gibberish to make your documentation clear. On the contrary, the more "plain" your language is, the better it is for both your employees and customers who want to understand how you use their data. A data dictionary/ glossary, as well as following clear data documentation standards are both very important. 

Careful How You Share Data 

You should always be 100% certain that all the data is shared only through the appropriate channels (i.e. channels that are documented and secure). 

Put a Double-Lock on Your Data

As you probably know, data privacy is crucial, regardless of what type of regulations you have to follow. Avoiding any kind of data breach is as important for a business as oxygen is for the human body. 

Store Data Properly 

Store your data appropriately and archive it to avoid extra costs. Finding the right type of data storage is an essential step in securing all your business' information. You can use on-premises data storage (such as servers, USB drives, or network-attached storage), a cloud solution, or a hybrid of the two main categories. 

Remember, data management and cleansing are not easy, but they are steps you simply cannot avoid taking (and should definitely not postpone). As your business grows, as more customers come and leave your business, and as your employee database expands, making sure that every bit of information is in its right place is the foundation upon which you want to build the future. 

Big Data is not just a glamorous buzzword, but a reality we're all facing. And data hygiene is at the core of it all.