DNA: clean data is key

As I mentioned in my last post, a UK wide DNA database will need to hold details of every man, woman and child in the UK, including visitors.

What use is a Ferrari with a broken sprocket? Data quality is going to be a hell of a problem. No matter how good a National DNA database is, it won’t run properly, if data is missing. Last week, the Audit Commission released its police data quality study which reported a vast improvement in the quality of police data since 2003. But there are still areas of concern, with over half of forces failing to record anti-social behaviour accurately.

Most police authorities and forces need to improve the systems and processes used to record incidents of anti-social behaviour. It is important that accurate information is used to record the nature of incidents.

The report goes on to state that reliable data on the types, locations and victims of anti-social behaviour is essential in order for police forces to address problems effectively and make neighbourhoods safe for local people.

Now what will happen when police forces are able to access and presumably update a national DNA database? DNA data may be unique but it will be accessed and records will be updated by thousands of officials from hospital doctors and nurses, police and immigration officers to local authorities and social services.

It is hard to see how everyone with access will adhere to the same high standards of data quality.

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So what’s the solution? We’re often told that IT in general has to “improve its systems and processes,” but what does that mean? Do you think it’s a case of people being better trained and supervised as they input data?

I don’t think data quality is an IT problem, since a computer can only ever really process the data it is given. Garbage in will always equal garbage out.

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