What is data rot? The following definition from Wikipedia is as good as any:
“Data rot, or data decay, is a colloquial computing phrase for the gradual decay of storage media or an explanation for the degradation of a software program over time, even if ‘nothing has changed.’”
Note the allusion to both hardware and software. Count on your hardware wearing out or becoming obsolete about every five years. Here is an amusing observation found on the internet by Dag Spicer the Chief Content Officer of the Computer History Museum:
If the storage medium becomes like a dusty coffin, its contents — your data — also deteriorates over time, because life goes on as data remains static.
Causes and effects of data rot
Take your member, donors and constituents database, for example. According to a recent article from Updentity’s Benjamin Ashpole, Chief Executive Officer, and Brandy Coomer, Chief Interaction Officer found on Third Sector Today these experts cite the following statistics:
- About 36 million Americans changed their address in 2013.
- People change their mailing addresses at an overall rate of 11 percent.
- Mobile and landline phone numbers change at a rate of 18 percent.
- About 86 percent of women change their surnames when they marry.
- 2 million people quit their job every month
What data rot means for nonprofits is that, as data becomes outdated:
- each obsolete record is a lost opportunity to contact a prospective donor, volunteer or board member; and
- poor data quality increases wasted time in bounced telephone calls, returned mail and overall administrative costs
- resulting in bad customer service experiences.
Prevention, treatment and cure
What nonprofits can do to prevent, forestall and cure data rot depends on the complexity and age of their data. The following are some basic steps:
1. Make sure your data entry methods include built-in safeguards against omissions, duplicates, incorrect zip codes, etc. CRM applications typically include data entry rules that can prevent common errors.
2. Remember the GIGO (garbage in-garbage out) rule. Someone should actually proofread every new data entry before finally sending it to your contact database.
3. Use interns, volunteers or staff downtime to do the necessary data scrubbing, personal contacts and follow-up to clean up data rot.
4. Review a software platform such as our business partner updentity that appends names, email addresses, phone numbers, mailing addresses, demographic information, and more to keep databases up-to-date.
If you are contemplating a customer database change, it may not be the system which is broke. Rather, it may be the data and perhaps you simply need to call on more automated methods and computer modules described in our blog on Association Management Software.
Whatever your data rot problems or concerns, contact us. We can you find the resource you need to fix it!