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Data Is Never Beyond Reproach

Robert Regis Hyle | June 03, 2014

One impulse with technology is to assume it somehow makes everything we do work better, but as you can see with Bryant Tow’s blog published this week, and an article written by Nate Silver and published on his website, nothing replaces the human element, particularly when there’s an excellent possibility that something could go wrong.

Silver was speaking about data issues, which confounds nearly every insurance carrier. He writes:

“Data never has a virgin birth. It can be tempting to assume that the information contained in a spreadsheet or a database is pure or clean or beyond reproach. But this is almost never the case. All data is collected and compiled by someone—either an individual researcher or a government agency or a scientific laboratory or a news organization or someone or something else. Sometimes, the data collection process is automated or programmatic. But that automation process is initiated by human beings who write code or programs or algorithms; those programs can have bugs, which will be faithfully replicated by the computers.”

Silver doesn’t mention insurance carriers, but those of us that have watched the maturation of the entire data process over the last decade understand that agents, customer service representatives, and virtually anyone within the enterprise could be included in Silver’s description of data collection.

Bryant Tow is a little more succinct when writing about security issues, but he might have been writing about data as well when he says: “The human operating system is 100 percent vulnerable.”

While insurers examine the processes that workers perform each day and the automation that seemingly should simplify those processes, they also must remind themselves that no matter how well technology works, one issue is almost impossible to avoid: operator error.

 So vigilance is important and double-checking is even more so, particularly when it comes to collecting and entering data. As good as we want it to be, we know it can never be perfect.

Perfection is a worthy goal to strive for, but when we know that something is impossible to achieve we should not forget that the errors we make—even the smallest of them—have a way of coming back to haunt us. Just don’t get spooked when it happens to you.




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