The Content is the Message, or How to do a Data Management Audit

In Data Management by Bill Adoff

Back in the 70’s while taking graduate classes in communications at Hunter University, I never completely agreed with Marshal McLuhan when he coined the phrase “The Medium is the Message”.

It was my belief then, as now that no matter how presented: the content is the message.

After over 25 years in the industry – starting first in Auxiliary Services at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science where my “card system” for meal plans was either a paper punch card or a college ID card with a numbered sticker checked off against a list – I still agree with my original assessment.

We moved from the list of numbers and punch cards to a one-card transaction system. Still, the most important information to know was that students were on the correct meal plan and that they had paid the school. I also had to be sure that the student received everything she was entitled to. The problem was this information lived in our Colleague ERP, and not in our one-card system.

Between the IT department and my department we successfully developed automatic methods for keeping the two systems synced. Fast-forward 25 years and hundreds of data integrations later, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to deploy and maintain a data management system. One thing I always come back to is the data management audit process.

The Data Management Audit

Whether you’re a huge state institution or a small private school, you should place an importance on auditing your data management methods. You can’t expect your access control or one-card partners to properly provide you working systems if you are not insuring that the data they are using is accurate and current. Your ancillary systems are only as viable as the data provided from your ERP and other systems of record.

An excellent way to ensure your campus systems are all in sync is to do an annual audit of your data management process. But what should you include in a data management audit?

Use the four simple questions below to determine how well you are maintaining your data management processes. When I use the term ancillary systems, I am referring to your access control program, one-card system, parking control programs or any other third-party system used to control any part of the college community.

  1. Have you automated the process of updating your ancillary systems or are you using emails and text files to make updates?
    If the process is automated then you need to make sure it has specific rule sets in place to guarantee that the data being provided is always correct. If you are using any number of manual methods of maintaining the data then you need to be sure you have checks in place to verify that the updates are being accomplished quickly and correctly.
  2. Have the data management rules changed or been updated?
    Proper data management requires following and enforcing rules that determine actions and processing in the ancillary systems based upon the data being passed. Sometimes the needs and requirements change, prompting either a new rule, or a change to a present rule. You need a process in place to handle these changes and ensure the data being passed conforms to the actual rule set. This may require a small modification or a complete change in the way the data is being handled.
  3. Have any new ancillary systems been added, or changes made to the existing ancillary systems?
    It is important to continually monitor all of the ancillary systems that are receiving or exchanging data. You need to ensure that the requirements for these systems are updated when necessary.
  4. How many man-hours per year are dedicated to maintaining the correct flow of data between and to all of your ancillary systems?
    Understanding the costs involved in manually updating and managing the data imports to your various ancillary systems will help determine the ROI of those systems.

I realized early in my career that whether a campus uses mag stripe cards, prox cards, smart phones, web browsers or Ancient Egyptian writings on papyrus, the content – or in our case the data – is more important than the medium used for its processing.

If you have a data management audit process in place on your campus we’d love to hear about it. If an automated data management system is something you’d like to have on your campus but don’t think you have the resources, let us know that, too. We can likely help.