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The data audit

Strategy comes before system. The most sophisticated database system on the planet is of no use if your data isn’t up to scratch. In this issue, Gary Olive of Qbase Data Services, stresses the importance of properly analysing your current data resources before you invest in any new system.

By Gary Olive

Gary Olive’s data series 
May/Jun 2004The big idea - first steps in setting up a marketing database.
Jul/Aug 2004Data audit – what you have, what you need, how to get there.
Sep/Oct 2004Data protection - key to a sound strategy.
Nov/Dec 2004Database solution – DIY or use professionals.
Jan/Feb 2005Tactics and strategy - using the database to build business.
Mar/Apr 2005The great unknown - blue skying.

Rubbish in, rubbish out. Data is the essence, the very life blood, of the marketing database. Having found your sponsor, presented your case and secured your budget, what you now want to avoid is investing the company’s hard earned cash in a marketing database that is no more than a glorified waste bin! You need a data strategy, the starting point for which is the data audit.

Essentially you are looking to establish a clear picture of the data that is currently available to support your database strategy. By looking at the data itself on the one hand, and the different ways in which it is collected and stored on the other, the data audit will reveal how good, or bad, your existing data (ergo the current data strategy) is. With a clear understanding of the data you have, the data that you lack will become self evident and you can determine strategies to fill any gaps.

Seek help

At this point I should emphasise that a data audit is not something that you can do on your own. Whilst you may co-ordinate and drive the exercise it will require elements of teamwork if it is to be successful - for a number of reasons.

a. The data audit needs to be time bound and, given that it could be a large exercise potentially spanning the business as a whole, you will need help.
b. The process can be perceived as intrusive. You will be delving into the affairs of other departments that you may have no direct responsibility for, or have had little involvement with, previously.
c. It is surprising just how much data could be found within your business. It is equally surprising just how much of it is held in small, private databases in a wide variety of formats. You will need access to local knowledge if you are to uncover all the relevant sources of data as the one you miss might be the key to your whole database strategy.
d. Having completed the data audit, you will no doubt wish to ensure that your recommended data strategy is not only signed upto by the board, but also applied on a day to day basis by the departments that will subsequently feed and use your marketing database.

Don’t struggle unnecessarily. Involve others by suggesting the concept of a data audit ‘panel’ to departmental heads and obtain their buy-in. You will earn both their respect and their support in so doing.

The process of data audit is one of investigation, documentation, evaluation and recommendation.


Establish what the data is and where it is held. Is it subscriptions or controlled circulation data? Do you hold it yourself or is it hosted for you? What happens to promotional responses, where do the coupons go? Use the members of the data audit panel to focus on their respective areas of expertise.


Co-ordinate the activity and record the findings. Create a data audit template that can be distributed to the audit panel to ensure that information is recorded in a uniform manner. Layout of the template would include such details as the audit period; the department involved; quantity of data: quality of data; how the data is collected; how the data is held; etc. Invite the members of the audit panel to report back on their findings to the other members of the panel by way of a data audit debrief.


Review data audit findings and determine which data sources are going to be of benefit to the end users of your marketing database over the short, medium and long term. Don’t forget, you may wish to deliver some quick wins to substantiate your business case. However, the most significant gains may only be realised after some form of enhancement to a data set or by improving the way in which a particular type of data is collected. Don’t be afraid to undertake an objective evaluation of all the data sources and their methods of collation and storage.


What needs to be done to obtain true value from the data audit and to lay the foundation for your data strategy moving forward. Such recommendations might include: adopting a standard policy on data collection; making certain fields mandatory on your subscription applications; requiring website log-on etc. You might also recommend that certain data sets have no value to your marketing database strategy and that no action is required. What is important, irrespective of the recommendations you make, is that you present and discuss your recommendations with your data audit panel before you submit them to the senior management team.

By involving potential future users of your marketing database in the data audit process, you elicit an element of buy-in and securing buy-in, through involvement, confers ownership.

With a feeling of ownership comes interest and, in this respect, not only is your data audit likely to be more successful, but you will also find that your marketing database is likely to be welcomed with open arms as, and when, it is subsequently implemented.