Cleansing and Conforming Data

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This process of Cleansing and Conforming Data change data on its way from source system(s) to the data warehouse and can also be used to identify and record errors about data. The latter information can be used to fix how the source system(s) work(s).

Good quality source data has to do with “Data Quality Culture” and must be initiated at the top of the organization. It is not just a matter of implementing strong validation checks on input screens, because almost no matter how strong these checks are, they can often still be circumvented by the users.

There is a nine-step guide for organizations that wish to improve data quality:

  • Declare a high level commitment to a data quality culture
  • Drive process reengineering at the executive level
  • Spend money to improve the data entry environment
  • Spend money to improve application integration
  • Spend money to change how processes work
  • Promote end-to-end team awareness
  • Promote interdepartmental cooperation
  • Publicly celebrate data quality excellence
  • Continuously measure and improve data quality

Data Cleansing System[edit]

The essential job of this system is to find a suitable balance between fixing dirty data and maintaining the data as close as possible to the original data from the source production system. This is a challenge for the Extract, transform, load architect.

The system should offer an architecture that can cleanse data, record quality events and measure/control quality of data in the data warehouse.

A good start is to perform a thorough data profiling analysis that will help define to the required complexity of the data cleansing system and also give an idea of the current data quality in the source system(s).

Quality Screens[edit]

Part of the data cleansing system is a set of diagnostic filters known as quality screens. They each implement a test in the data flow that, if it fails records an error in the Error Event Schema. Quality screens are divided into three categories:

  • Column screens. Testing the individual column, e.g. for unexpected values like NULL values; non-numeric values that should be numeric; out of range values; etc.
  • Structure screens. These are used to test for the integrity of different relationships between columns (typically foreign/primary keys) in the same or different tables. They are also used for testing that a group of columns is valid according to some structural definition it should adhere.
  • Business rule screens. The most complex of the three tests. They test to see if data, maybe across multiple tables, follow specific business rules. An example could be, that if a customer is marked as a certain type of customer, the business rules that define this kind of customer should be adhered.

When a quality screen records an error, it can either stop the dataflow process, send the faulty data somewhere else than the target system or tag the data. The latter option is considered the best solution because the first option requires, that someone has to manually deal with the issue each time it occurs and the second implies that data are missing from the target system (integrity) and it is often unclear, what should happen to these data.

Criticism of existing tools and processes[edit]

The main reasons cited are:

  • Project costs: costs typically in the hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • Time: lack of enough time to deal with large-scale data-cleansing software
  • Security: concerns over sharing information, giving an application access across systems, and effects on legacy systems

Error Event Schema[edit]

This schema is the place, where all error events thrown by quality screens, are recorded. It consists of an Error Event Fact table with foreign keys to three dimension tables that represent date (when), batch job (where) and screen (who produced error). It also holds information about exactly when the error occurred and the severity of the error. In addition there is an Error Event Detail Fact table with a foreign key to the main table that contains detailed information about in which table, record and field the error occurred and the error condition.



  • Kimball, R., Ross, M., Thornthwaite, W., Mundy, J., Becker, B. The Data Warehouse Lifecycle Toolkit, Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2008. ISBN 978-0-470-14977-5.
  • Olson, J. E. Data Quality: The Accuracy Dimension", Morgan Kauffman, 2002. ISBN 1-55860-891-5.

External links[edit]