As the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down offices, people have taken to working remotely, and many have even moved from locations where the cost of living is high to places where it’s more manageable.

This raises the issue of data quality, not only in terms of the accuracy of data being input into fields in a database, but the accuracy of the data itself. Direct marketing organizations, for example, are working with data that could now be out of date. “Data needs to be accurate, to real-life information,” said Greg Brown, head of marketing at data quality company Melissa. “That’s where the migratory nature of humans comes into play. They’re moving jobs, or they’re working from home, or they and their families are moving, changing addresses and phone numbers. So the data needs to be meaningful — not only accurate, but actionable.”

Organizations may be trying to reach contacts at their offices, but now, many are not going in, or haven’t had their mail forwarded to their new location. So, when data becomes obsolete, it’s necessary for organizations that rely on knowing where people work and how to contact them to get the new data. But in many cases, people are reluctant to share that new information, because they don’t know how it’s going to be used or who is going to use it, or share it with other organizations.

It’s that reluctance to provide personal information that creates a kind of conundrum for those kinds of marketing organizations, many of which are rethinking what data they collect and what is most important to them. 

Many organizations, though, don’t have the kind of data quality algorithms in place to transform an address that comes in with the street directional missing, or the prefix missing. “We can correct those things getting standardized, and then you can have a much higher match rate against all these other really sophisticated data sets that are out there and available.”

In the health care industry, there are other kinds of data that don’t have to do with just location and contact data. There are things like Medicaid claims and making sure the right number is associated with the right patient and claims, and that his physician hasn’t changed or moved. 

Colton Brugger works at a health insurance startup called Circulo, which is working to update data systems and use the data they collect to respond to claims. “But the thing is,” he said, “there’s a lot of valuable data that’s going to come in through the claim system about what type of care, what type of experience, who our members are going to see — you know, are they going to emergency rooms, rather than a primary care physician? We want to see that and we want to act on it immediately. So we’re trying to unburden ourselves from old-style systems that are slow to respond to episodes of care.”

Not to mention that changes in the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) have been “kind of a nightmare for a lot of insurance and billing companies because they added the requirement of having zip data,” Melissa’s Brown said. Now, he noted, companies need a zip+4 code, but many only have the five-digit zip code for a lot of their addresses. “We see a lot of businesses just trying to clean that up just from a medical claims standpoint, for verification of whoever the provider and that they’re providing the service to the patient, who’s then submitting that.”

The thing about data, Brown added, is that it’s not static; it’s dynamic. So staying on top of your contacts is imperative. “If people get more mobile, there’s work from home, or I’m working on maybe an extended vacation or something, you need to be able to be able to identify those types of things. And really create a more holistic record of every contact so that you can maintain effective but also relevant communication with them.”

This amount of movement surely will make it difficult for companies looking to send holiday gifts to suppliers or customers, whose offices might be shut down. Where you might have sent the big tub of three flavored popcorns or a food gift basket to an office for all to enjoy, you likely wouldn’t send one to every person at the company – even if you knew their home addresses.