Stalactites, Stalagmites, and Data Management

Stick with me here…

As we all learned in grade school science class, stalactites and stalagmites are mineral formations in caves. They are formed by mineral deposits carried in water dripping in the cave. Stalactites grow at a rate of less than 10cm every thousand years! But form they do! A microscopically slow accretion of minerals, over thousands of years, can create giant (and often beautiful) formations.

The same thing happens in data management. We change processes, we add fields, we create and remove products, we create and (hopefully!) deactivate committees, and on and on and on. Over time, all that data accretes. It very slowly, almost unnoticeably, creates stalagmites and stalactites of data, data that we no longer use. And often all of these calcified formations can cause trouble and confusion.

Allow me to illustrate.

I once worked with an association who was having significant challenges with their AMS. Part of the problem was the perception that the database was filled with “garbage.” Few trusted the data, and often with good reason. As we worked through the database, I asked about several different fields of data that didn’t seem to be in much use. Time after time the staff responded with a variation of “Oh, that was a project started by one of our past marketing directors. We’re not using that data anymore.” We found at least a dozen fields that matched this description.

That is how stalagmites and stalactites of data accrete over time. The data doesn’t “go bad” overnight; it happens over a long period of time. So what can we do about it?

We need to schedule in periodic reviews of the database and clean out the data we’re no longer using. I’ve written before about data management schedules and about weeding the garden. These are two good techniques for keeping your data clean.

Another step to add is an annual review of all the data that is currently being captured to determine if that data should still be managed. Just like data stalagmites and stalactites, processes can also accrete over time, and often they are repeated even when there is no use for them anymore.

So take a look at your own AMS. What kind of stalagmites and stalactites have formed over time, and what can you clean out today?

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