Measure and manage - data on the balance sheet?
Data is a big asset to all companies, how to measure and manage them on the balance sheet.
Equally, if you sold your business, a potential purchaser would want to know the value of your assets and liabilities, including the ‘goodwill’
The Financial Reporting Standard (FRS) 10 Goodwill and Intangible Assets proposes that ‘purchased goodwill and intangible assets should be capitalised as assets’. Assets can be intangibles such as patents or copyrights that provide financial advantages for their holder. Doesn’
Unfortunately, because it is intangible, the database content is not treated with the respect it deserves. However, to some companies, an intangible asset can be the most valuable asset it possesses.
Capital expenditure (CAPEX) is measured as a matter of course, but who bothers to measure expenditure on data? If they did, the chances are they would find it's around 10 times bigger than CAPEX. Companies measure return on investment (ROI) or return on capital employed (ROCE), but what about return on capital invested in data (ROCID)? If it’s not measured, it will remain unmanaged.
Organisations collect, buy and store data, they manage and maintain it, so it is constantly being invested in. The balance sheet includes hardware and software and their depreciation, so why treat the database content differently?
The main problem seems to be that there is confusion about ownership. In most organisations, IT owns the database container, and other areas – marketing, finance, sales, etc. – take ownership (or perhaps not) of the database content. The result is that data quality easily falls through the gaps created.
The irony is that the database and its content are really a board level responsibility and should be treated as such. Hence the database content should be valued by everyone in the business as an intangible asset and perhaps added to the balance sheet, in the same way as physical assets are cherished.
It’s the classic ‘Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, Nobody’ no ownership story: Data quality management is an important job and Everybody is sure that Somebody will do it. Anybody can do it, but Nobody does. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thinks that Anybody can do it, but Nobody realises that Everybody won’t do it. In the end, Everybody blames Somebody when Nobody does what Anybody could do.
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