Why bad data in the wrong hands is so damaging!

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

One of the reasons I founded Tech North East was to provide a rich and accurate picture of the region’s digital tech ecosystem. I was increasingly frustrated by stories written about the North East that were either factually incorrect or didn’t do our region justice.

So, assuming no malice or foul play, why do some people get their facts so badly wrong? Occasionally I see people attempting to self promote their business or themselves by concocting a story about the region that amplifies their own importance. However, I believe the main reason the inaccurate data, and I’m going to give a couple of examples to support this:

Yesterday I attended a Fintech North breakfast where a picture of the North East’s (excluding Tees Valley) FinTech ecosystem was presented, along with some recommendations on how this might be developed for the future benefit of the region. This was a good session and there was quite a bit of discussion and differing opinions around the picture, why were some apparently non Fintech companies included; what was the methodology behind the mapping; was it a true and accurate representation of the North East's FinTech ecosystem?

Some anomalies were identified with the picture and there was robust discussion around the recommendations. However, to be fair Whitecap Consulting, the report authors, they clearly signposted it as work in progress and a clear commitment was given to take on board the feedback.

I was curious to compare what Whitecap had classified as North East Fintech companies with what Tech Nation were classifying as North East Fintech companies. To do this I thought I’d try the new data service that Tech Nation & Dealroom had announced earlier in the week.

Quite honestly, I was left staring at the screen in disbelief!

How by any stretch of the imagination can Lunar Vape, a company supplying ‘a range of vaping products’ and printed.com ‘a Digital Printing, Business Cards business’ be classified as FinTech businesses?

Of course they aren’t and it only took me two seconds the check Companies House records to validate what line of business these companies were in as identified by Standard Industry Classification (SIC) code which businesses self select at time of incorporation.

I went on to randomly look around the site and I found countless other data discrepancies and within a short space of time my confidence and trust in the service had evaporated.

This is not me having a dig at our friends from Tech Nation. They do a great job for our industry, I totally respect them, and I love what this Dealroom service is attempting to do. However, in this case they really need to go back and take a look at their data source as they are clearly purveying false facts, not just about the North East, but about the UK. In a commercial world, this service would normally be suspended until the underlying data problems have been addresses.

There are some valuable lessons here, i.e.

1. If you’re going to tell a story about anything, unless its fiction, then your facts have to be accurate.

2. If you’re using data to support these facts, then these data must be accurate, and make sure you reference the source.

3. If you’re drawing conclusion by aggregating, clustering or tagging data, then also share the methodology used.

4. If you’re including regional statistics, then validate your facts with a source of expertise who really understands the region.

Otherwise, we’re right back to square one, someone with no experience or insight into our region picks up some data from a seemingly trusted source and draws a set of conclusions that are totally incorrect.

This not only damages the region externally as opinions are hard to change once formed, but it also creates confusion and discord across the region. Oh, and as the author of the report or service then you’ll likely face a barrage of solicited critical feedback.

I’d very much like to hear your views and thoughts on this?