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How to Create Valuable Data Tests: A Guide to Data Quality

Published: 31st August, 2023
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Narender Ravulakollu

Technical Content Writer at almaBetter

Learn how to create valuable data tests for effective data quality assurance. Discover the importance of quality over quantity aligning with the requirements.

In the data-driven era, data quality is paramount for businesses to make accurate decisions. Data tests play a crucial role in ensuring data accuracy and reliability. However, creating numerous tests doesn't always translate to higher data quality.

This article explores the art of designing valuable data tests that enhance data quality effectively. We'll strike a balance between quantity and quality, align tests with consumer needs, and delve into key dimensions of data quality. Practical tips will empower data engineers to optimize their test strategies and harness the full potential of their data. Let's dive into the world of valuable data tests and unlock the power of high-quality data.

Quality > Quantity: Finding the Right Balance

When it comes to data tests, quality should always take precedence over quantity. While it's natural to want to create numerous tests to bolster confidence in data solutions, an excessive number of tests can lead to unforeseen pitfalls. To strike the right balance, it's essential to understand the fundamental difference between data tests and unit tests.

Data tests go beyond code logic validation and encompass various aspects like data source quality, data pipeline configurations, and upstream dependencies. Unlike unit tests that focus on specific code behavior, data tests examine the broader picture of data quality. As such, the metrics involved can be overwhelming, leading to the temptation to create redundant tests "just in case."

Understanding Data Tests vs. Unit Tests

Unit tests are designed to validate the correctness of specific code logic and are indispensable for handling edge cases effectively. However, data tests extend their scope to assess the quality of source data, data transformations, and the entire data pipeline.

Data tests primarily verify the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of data products, ensuring that the data meets stakeholder requirements. These tests play a crucial role in data observability and provide valuable insights into data integrity.

The Pitfalls of Excessive Data Tests

While data tests are essential for data quality, an excessive number of tests can lead to several pitfalls. Duplicated data tests can result in redundant alerts, leading to confusion and decreased productivity. False positives may arise from redundant tests, triggering unnecessary actions and creating noise that distracts data engineers from real issues.

Moreover, maintaining a large number of tests requires significant effort and time, potentially diverting resources from other critical tasks. Therefore, the focus should be on creating high-quality, meaningful tests that genuinely contribute to data quality.

Ensuring Quality in Data Test Creation

To ensure data quality, it's vital to start with the quality of data tests themselves. Each test should have a clear purpose and directly contribute to validating data integrity. Before creating a new test, evaluate its necessity and potential impact on data observability. Consider factors like data pipeline frequency, usage patterns, and specific requirements.

An effective approach is to involve stakeholders and data consumers in the test creation process. By understanding their needs and expectations, data engineers can align data tests with consumer demands, making them more valuable and relevant.

Another crucial aspect is to automate data tests whenever possible. Automation reduces the chances of human error, ensures consistency, and allows data engineers to focus on more complex tasks. Moreover, automated tests facilitate faster detection and resolution of data quality issues, leading to improved overall data reliability.

By adopting a pragmatic and selective approach to data test creation, data teams can create valuable tests that optimize data quality without overwhelming resources. Quality data tests empower businesses to make confident data-driven decisions and derive meaningful insights from their data assets.

Fitness for Use: Aligning with Consumer Requirements

In the realm of data solutions, data can be viewed as a product, and data pipelines act as data manufacturing systems that produce data products. Just like any other product, data must meet the needs of its consumers. The concept of "fitness for use" emphasizes the importance of understanding consumer requirements to ensure data products' success.

To create valuable data tests, collaboration with stakeholders is crucial. By closely working with data consumers, data engineers can gain insights into regulatory requirements, accuracy standards, reliability expectations, and other crucial aspects that define data quality from a consumer's perspective.

Capturing the Full Voice of Customers

To guarantee data quality, it's essential to capture the full voice of customers. Stakeholders play a pivotal role in providing insights into their specific needs and requirements. By involving data consumers early in the test design process, data engineers can tailor data tests to align precisely with what users expect and require.

Collaborating with Stakeholders for Test Design

Collaboration is key to designing effective data tests. While stakeholders offer valuable input from a business perspective, data engineers can contribute their technical expertise to ensure that the tests cover internal operations and dependencies. This collaboration enables data engineers to create comprehensive data tests that encompass both external use cases and internal data quality dimensions.

By adopting a fitness-for-use approach and actively engaging with stakeholders, data engineers can design data tests that address consumer requirements and optimize data quality for meaningful insights and decision-making.

Data Quality Dimensions: Covering Comprehensive Test Scopes

To create valuable data tests, it's essential to consider comprehensive data quality dimensions that cover both external business-driven perspectives and internal technical-driven viewpoints. By incorporating these dimensions into the test design, data engineers can ensure a thorough evaluation of data quality across various aspects.

External View: Business-Driven Dimensions

The external view of data quality dimensions revolves around the use of data and its relevance to the organization's business needs. These dimensions are highly business-driven and focus on the functionality and applicability of the data for specific use cases. While evaluating data quality from an external perspective, it's essential to address metrics that directly impact the success of data products for end-users.

Some critical external view dimensions include:

1. Relevancy: The extent to which data is applicable and helpful for analysis within specific use cases. This dimension ensures that data attributes align with the objectives of data consumers.

2. Representation: The interpretability and consistency of data format for data consumers. It encompasses data format, consistency, and user-friendliness.

3. Timeliness: The freshness of data for data consumers. Timeliness ensures that data is up-to-date and relevant for decision-making.

4. Accuracy: The compliance of data with business rules and logic. Data metrics are validated against complicated business rules, ensuring data correctness.

Internal View: Technical-Driven Dimensions

The internal view of data quality dimensions is more technical-driven and focuses on the operation of data pipelines independently of specific business requirements. These dimensions are critical for all data solutions and address the overall quality of data sources and the data pipeline.

Key internal view dimensions include:

1. Quality of Data Source: The impact of data source quality on the final data. Data contracts and source data monitoring are essential to ensure high-quality data.

2. Completeness: The extent to which data remains intact throughout the data pipeline. Completeness ensures no information loss within intermediate stages.

3. Uniqueness: The absence of duplicate data within the dataset. Uniqueness guarantees data accuracy by avoiding repetitions.

4. Consistency: The uniformity of data across internal systems on a daily basis. It addresses discrepancies and inconsistencies within data.

Mapping Dimensions to Specific Tables or Metrics

As each dimension can be associated with one or more data tests, it's crucial to understand which dimensions are applicable to specific tables or metrics. By mapping dimensions to corresponding data elements, data engineers can create targeted tests that align with specific data quality requirements. This comprehensive approach ensures that data tests cover all relevant aspects of data quality, enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of the data quality assurance process.

Practical Tips for Effective Data Tests

Creating valuable data tests requires a strategic approach that goes beyond merely creating numerous tests. To ensure data quality, data engineers can implement practical tips that enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of data tests.

Addressing Wrong Data vs. No Data

In many data solutions, data tests are typically conducted after the data model has been updated. However, waiting until this stage may lead to the discovery of "wrong data" that has already become corrupted. To prioritize "no data" over "wrong data," consider materializing the table in a temporary location before conducting tests. Only if the tests are successfully passed, proceed to copy the table to the original destination. This approach helps prevent incorrect data from contaminating the final dataset.

Reconciliation Tests for Data Validation

Reconciliation tests are crucial for data validation, comparing the consistency and accuracy of data between two or more systems, often between the source and destination datasets. By conducting reconciliation tests, data engineers can ensure that data transformations and transfers are executed accurately, identifying any discrepancies that may indicate flaws within the data pipeline.

Tests with Margin to Detect Deviations

In some scenarios, stakeholders may be more concerned about deviations from a consistent pattern rather than exact values. To address this concern, create tests with margin, which allow for a certain degree of flexibility. For instance, stakeholders might find zero values acceptable in a column, but excessive amounts should be avoided. In such cases, set a threshold or margin for the maximum allowable occurrences of a specific value, ensuring early detection of potential issues.

Smart Questioning for Enhanced Test Perspectives

When designing data tests, engage in smart questioning with data consumers and providers. This approach involves asking relevant questions that lead to insights about potential test requirements. By adopting a data quality framework and seeking input from stakeholders, data engineers can consider additional perspectives of the data, enhancing the overall quality and relevance of data tests.

By implementing these practical tips, data engineers can optimize their data testing processes and ensure that data tests are purposeful, efficient, and aligned with specific data quality objectives. Creating valuable data tests is not just about quantity but rather about strategically designing tests that address the most critical aspects of data quality, contributing to reliable and high-quality data products.

Conclusion

Prioritizing quality over quantity is paramount when creating data tests. While unit tests validate code logic, data tests encompass data source quality, pipeline configurations, and dependencies. Avoiding excessive tests prevents false positives and ensures efficiency.

Valuable data tests align with consumer requirements and cover business-driven and technical-driven dimensions. A data quality framework aids in comprehensive test design. Smart questioning engages stakeholders for critical insights.

In summary, valuable data tests are essential for reliable data quality, empowering confident data-driven decisions. Embrace quality, collaborate, and leverage frameworks for effective data tests.

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