Monitoring for data quality issues as early as ingestion: here’s why

Databand
2022-01-24 15:17:13

Maintaining data quality is challenging. Data is often unreliable and inconsistent, especially when it flows from multiple data sources. To deal with quality issues and prevent them from impacting your product and decision-making, you need to monitor your data flows. Monitoring helps identify schema changes, discover missing data, catch unusual levels of null records, fix failed pipelines, and more. In this blog post, we will explain why we recommend monitoring data starting at the source (ingestion), list three potential use cases for ingestion monitoring, and finish off with three best practices for data engineers to get started.

This blog post is based on the first episode of our podcast, “Why Data Quality Begins at the Source”, which you can listen to below or here.

Where Should You Monitor Data Quality?

Data quality monitoring is a fairly new practice, and different tools offer different monitoring capabilities across the data pipeline. While some tools monitor data quality where the data rests, i.e at the data warehouse, at Databand we think it’s critical to monitor data quality as early as ingestion, not just at the warehouse level. Let’s look at a few reasons why.

4 Reasons to Monitor Data Quality Early in the Data Pipeline

1. Higher Probability of Identifying Issues

Erroneous or abnormal data affects all the other data and analytics downstream. Once corrupt data has been ingested and flows to the data lake/warehouse, it might already be mixed up with healthy data and used in analyses. This makes it much more difficult to identify the errors and their source, because the dirty data can be “washed out” in the higher volumes of data that sits at rest

In fact, the ability to identify issues is based on an engineer or analyst knowing what the expected data results should be, recognizing a problematic anomaly, and diagnosing that this anomaly is the result of data and not a business change. When the corrupt data is such a small percentage of the entire data lake, this becomes even harder. 

Why take the chance of overlooking errors and problems that could impact the product, your users, and decision making? By monitoring early in the pipeline, many issues can be avoided because you are monitoring a more targeted sample of data, and therefore able to create a more precise baseline for when data looks unusual.

data quality monitoring
2. Creating Confidence in the Warehouse

Analysts and additional stakeholders rely on the warehouse to make a wide variety of business and product decisions. Trusting warehouse data is essential for business agility and for making the right decisions. If data in the warehouse is “known” to have issues, stakeholders will not use it or trust it. This means the organization is not leveraging data to the full extent.

If the data warehouse is the heart of the customer-facing product, i.e the product relies almost entirely on data, then corrupt data could jeopardize the entire product’s adoption in the market.

By quality assuring the data before it arrives to the warehouse and the main analytical system, teams can improve confidence in that “trusted layer.

3. Ability to Fix Issues Faster

By identifying data issues faster, data engineers have more time to react. They can identify causality and lineage, and fix the data or source to prevent any harmful impact that corrupt data could have. Trying to identify and fix full-blown issues in the product or after decision-making is much harder to do.

4. Enabling Data Source Governance

By analyzing, monitoring and identifying the point of inception, data engineers can identify a malfunctioning source and act to fix it. This provides better governance over sources, in real-time and in the long-run.

When Should You Monitor Data Quality from Ingestion?

We recommend monitoring data quality across the pipeline, from ingestion and at rests. However, you need to start somewhere… Here are the top three use cases for prioritizing monitoring at ingestion:

  • Frequent Source Changes – When your business relies on data sources or APIs where data structure frequently changes, it is recommended to continuously monitor them. For example, in the case of a transportation application that pulls data from the constantly changing APIs of location data, user tracking information, etc.
  • Multiple External Data Sources – When your business’s output depends on analyzing data from dozens or hundreds of sources. For example, a real-estate app that provides listings based on data from offices, municipalities, schools, etc.  
  • Data-Driven Products – When your product is based on data and each data source has a direct impact on the product. For example, navigation applications that pull data about roads, weather, transportation, etc.

Getting Started with Data Quality Monitoring

As mentioned before, data quality monitoring is a relatively new practice. Therefore, it makes sense to implement it gradually. Here are three recommended best practices:

1. Determine Quality Layers

Data changes across the pipeline, and so does its quality. Divide your data pipeline into various steps, e.g the warehouse layer, the transformation layer, and the ingestion layer. Understand that data quality means different things at each of these stages and prioritize the layers that have the most impact on your business.

2. Monitor Different Quality Depths

When monitoring data, there are different quality aspects to review. Start with reviewing metadata and ensuring the data structure was correct and that all the data arrived. Once metadata has been verified, move on to address explicit business-related aspects of the data, which relate to domain knowledge.

3. See Demos of Different Data Monitoring Tools 

Once you’ve mapped out your priorities and pain points, it’s time to find a tool that can automate this process for you. Don’t hesitate to see demos of different tools and ask the hard questions about data quality assurance. For example, to see a demo of Databand, click here. To learn more about data quality and hear the entire episode this blog post was based on, visit our podcast, here.