Pirates of the Computer: The Curse of the Poor Data Quality

This recent tweet (expanded using TwitLonger) by Ted Friedman of Gartner Research conspired with the swashbuckling movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, leading, really quite inevitably, to the writing of this Data Quality Tale.


Pirates of the Computer: The Curse of the Poor Data Quality

Jack Sparrow was once the Captain of Information Technology (IT) at the world famous Es el Pueblo Estúpido Corporation. 

However, when Jack revealed his plans for recommending to executive management the production implementation of the new Dystopian Automated Transactional Analysis (DATA) system and its seamlessly integrated Magic Beans software, his First Mate Barbossa mutinied by stealing the plans and successfully pitching the idea to the CIO—thereby getting Captain Sparrow fired.

As the new officially appointed Captain of IT, Barbossa implemented DATA and Magic Beans, which migrated and consolidated all of the organization’s information assets, clairvoyantly detected and corrected existing data quality problems, and once fully implemented into production, was preventing any future data quality problems from happening.

As soon as a source was absorbed into DATA, Magic Beans automatically freed up disk space by deleting all traces of the source, including all backups—somehow even the off-site archives.

DATA was then the only system of record, truly becoming the organization’s Single Version of the Truth.

DATA and Magic Beans seemed almost too good to be true.

And that’s because they were.

A few weeks after the last of the organization’s information assets had been fully integrated into DATA, it was discovered that Magic Beans was apparently infected with a nasty computer virus known as The Curse of the Poor Data Quality.

Mysterious “computer glitches” began causing bizarre data quality issues.  At first, the glitches seemed rather innocuous, such as resetting all user names to “TED FRIEDMAN” and all passwords to “GARTNER RESEARCH.”

But that’s hardly worth mentioning, especially when compared with what happened next.

All of the business-critical information stored in DATA—and all new information added—suddenly became completely inaccurate and totally useless as the basis for making any business decisions.

DATA and Magic Beans were cursed!  It was believed that the only way The Curse of the Poor Data Quality could be lifted was by re-installing the organization’s original systems and software.

William “Backup Bill” Turner, Jack’s only supporter, believing the organization deserved to remain cursed for betraying Jack, sent a USB drive to his young son, Will, which contained the only surviving backup copy of the original systems and software.

Many years later, Will Turner, still wearing his father’s old USB drive around his neck, but not knowing its alleged value, is told by Jack Sparrow that Captain Barbossa killed Will’s father and kidnapped Will’s ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth Swann.

Jack and Will infiltrate the DATA center disguised as PIRATEs (Professional Information Retrieval and Technology Experts). 

Jack tells Will that he needs the USB drive to determine where Elizabeth is being held.  Will gives Jack the USB drive and he uses it to begin restoring the original systems and software.  Moments later, Barbossa and Elizabeth walk into the DATA center.

“Elizabeth!  Don’t worry, I’m here to save you!” Will proudly declares.

“Will?” Elizabeth responds, confused.  “What are you talking about?  You’re here to save me from what?  My new job?”

Embarrassed, and turning toward Jack, Will shouts, “You told me Barbossa killed my father and kidnapped Elizabeth!”

“I’m terribly sorry, but I lied,” replies Jack.  “I’m a PIRATE, that’s what we do.”

“Killed your father?” Barbossa interjects.  “No, not literally.  Years ago, I killed a UNIX process he was running in production, and he threw a temper tantrum then quit.  I just hired Elizabeth last week in order to help us overcome our DATA problems.”

You are Jack Sparrow?” asks Elizabeth.  “You are, without doubt, the worst PIRATE I’ve ever heard of.”

“But you have heard of me,” replies Jack, proudly smiling.

“Security!” yells Barbossa.  “Please escort Mr. Sparrow out of the building—immediately!”

“That’s Captain Sparrow,” Jack retorts.  “And it’s too late, Barbossa!  I just restored the original systems and software.  Ha ha!  DATA and Magic Beans are no more!  Without doubt, this will earn my rightful reinstatement as the Captain of IT!”

“Oh no it won’t,” Barbossa responds slowly, while staring at his monitor in disbelief.  “DATA and Magic Beans are gone alright, but The Curse of the Poor Data Quality remains!”

“The what?” asks Elizabeth.

The Curse of the Poor Data Quality,” Barbossa angrily replies.  “All of our information assets are still completely inaccurate and totally useless as the basis for making any business decisions.  Therefore, we are still cursed with unresolved data quality issues!”

“What did you expect to happen?” remarks Will.  “Technology is never the solution to any problem.  Technology is the problem.  And unabated advancements in technology will eventually lead to computers becoming self-aware and taking over the world.”

Laughing, Barbossa asks, “You do realize that only happens in really bad movies, right?”

“No, curses only happen in really bad movies,” replies Will.  “Sentient computers taking over the world is really going to happen.  After all, it was very clearly explained in that excellent documentary series produced by the governor of California.”

“Oh, shut up Will!” shouts Elizabeth.  “I don’t won’t to hear another one of your anti-technology rants!  That’s why I broke up with you in the first place.  Although technology didn’t cause the data quality problems, Luddite Will is right about one thing, technology is not the solution.”

“What in blazes are you talking about?” Jack and Barbossa retort in unison.

“Seriously, I actually have to explain this?” replies Elizabeth.  “After all, the name of this corporation is Es el Pueblo Estúpido!”

Jack, Barbossa, and Will just stare at Elizabeth with puzzled looks on their faces.

“It’s Spanish for,” explains Elizabeth, “It’s the People, Stupid!

“Well, we don’t speak Spanish,” Barbossa and Jack reply.  “The only languages we speak are Machine Language, FORTRAN, LISP, COBOL, PL/I, BASIC, Pascal, C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, Perl, SQL, HTML, XML, PHP, Python, SPARQL . . .”

“Enough!” Elizabeth finally screams. 

“The point that I am trying to make is that although people, business processes, and yes, of course, technology, are all important for successful data quality management, by far the most important of all is . . . Do I really have to say it one more time?”

“It’s the People, Stupid!”

“This corporation should really be renamed to Todos los hombres son idiotas!” Elizabeth concludes, while shaking her head and looking at the clock.  “We can discuss all of this in more detail next week after I return from my Labor Day Weekend vacation.”

“You’re going away for Labor Day Weekend?” asks Will cheerily.  “Perhaps you would be so kind as to invite me to join you?”

“It’s a good thing you’re cute,” replies Elizabeth.  “Yes, you’re invited to join me, but you’ll have to carry my purse—all weekend.”

“Can we pretend,” Will says, grimacing as he reluctantly accepts her purse, “that I am carrying your laptop computer bag?”

“Oh sure, why not?” replies Elizabeth sarcastically with a sly smile.  “And while we’re at it, let’s all just continue pretending that the key to ongoing data quality improvement isn’t focusing more on people, their work processes, and their behaviors . . .”


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