Data quality – are you assured?

09 February 2022

Everyone knows that data is important, but do we realise that data governance and accuracy is essential to driving a successful business?

We are living in a world of Big Data. Key systems and processes generate endless streams of data that can be used to monitor performance and provide a basis for key operational and strategic decisions.

In the housing sector, good data quality is not an optional extra as it’s held and used in every department. It’s fundamental to the business and the basis of a registered provider’s reputation. All decisions, whether strategic, safety, managerial or financial, need to be made with access to information of the highest quality.

Imagine if your housing property data was flawed, and the impact that would have on the assumptions made in your financial and business plans, and the decisions the board makes about its strategy and budget. There is often a significant risk to the accuracy of management data where key information is distributed across two or more different systems that do not communicate directly with each other. This is frequently the case between asset records, repairs and maintenance systems, and housing management systems.

If your stock condition records identify that a three-bedroom house had no bathroom, or a property has no front door, would this get picked up and would these areas be included on the replacement schedule feeding into your asset management plans and budgets?

If your customer health and safety records are not accurate your tenants could be put at risk. If new properties are not accurately added to your systems, they might not make the safety programme of works. An area we often see issues with are actions identified as part of the safety works not being tracked and dealt with in a timely manner. This can put your customers at risk, and we have seen several self-referrals to the regulator over these very issues.

Registered providers need to recognise the importance of having reliable and timely information, both internally to support customers, operational and strategic management; and externally for regulatory, accountability, financing and strategic planning purposes.

Registered providers are required to submit returns to the Regulator of Social Housing, including the Statistical Data Return, Financial Forecast Return and business plan. Consistency and compliance with national standards are therefore essential, as organisations are measured and judged on the data they produce, and assessment ratings depend in part on good quality data.

Poor data quality may lead to:

  • avoidable safety incidents occurring;
  • staff, contractors and customers being put at risk through invalid or incorrect information held;
  • loss of confidence in the validity of recorded information;
  • poor management decisions within or about the organisation;
  • loss of income to the organisation; and
  • reputational damage to the organisation.

It is therefore crucial that the data on which decisions are to be made is robust.

What can you do about it?

  • Make sure everyone is aware of their responsibility and has had the training to support their role.
  • Never assume data is accurate – remember, rubbish in, rubbish out!
  • Understand your data mapping. Do you know where the data comes from and how reliable it is?
  • Triangulate and verify data to ensure accuracy.
  • Have clear definitions when you’re using performance indicators, and a consistent approach to collecting data verification checks. Take data snapshots to provide a clear audit trail so that source data is not overwritten.
  • Seek assurance on the quality of the data from first-line assurance (management), second-line assurance (internal compliance or assurance teams) or third-line assurance (internal audit or other external assurance providers).

Key questions for those charged with governance

  1. How do you know that the data provided in board/committee reports is timely, accurate and consistent?
  2. Are you happy that your organisation’s systems can deal with the increased demand for data-driven reporting?
  3. Are you sure that your organisation has the expertise to enable it to make the best use of its data?
  4. Does data inform the organisation’s strategy, and does it help it to make business decisions towards achieving its objectives?

For more information on data quality assurance, please contact Keith Ward or Mark Jones.

Mark Jones
Mark Jones
Partner, Head of Internal Audit
Mark Jones
Mark Jones
Partner, Head of Internal Audit