Adrian
3 min readMar 24, 2024

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Data Quality Dimensions - Part III: Completeness

Data Management Series

Completeness refers to the extent to which there are missing data in a dataset, fact reflected in the number of the missing values, also referred as empty (when an empty string or default values is used) or ‘Nulls’ (aka unknown values), and/or in the number of missing records .

The missing values are typically considered in report to mandatory attributes, attributes that need a not-Null value for each record, though after case might be applied to non-mandatory attributes (optional attributes) too, for example when is intended to understand whether the attributes are adequately maintained or not. It’s interesting that [1] considers also the inapplicable attributes referring to the attributes not applicable (relevant) for certain scenarios (e.g. physical dimensions for service-based materials), which together with the applicable attributes (relevant) can be considered as another type of categorization for attributes. Whether an attribute is mandatory is decided upon business context and not necessarily upon the physical structure containing the attribute, in other words an attribute could be optional as per database schema and mandatory per business rules.

‘Missing records ‘ can be a misleading term because is used in several contexts, however within data completeness context it refers only to the cases not covered by data integrity. For example in parent-child table relations the header data was entered though the detail data is missing, either not entered or deleted; such a case is not covered by referential integrity because there is no missing reference, but just the parent without child data (1:n cardinality).

A mixed example occurs when the same entity is split across several tables at the same level of detail. One of the tables must function as a parent, falling in the previous mentioned example (1:1 cardinality). In such a scenario it depends how one reports the nonconformances per record: (1) the error is counted only once, independently on how many dimensions an error was raised; (2) the error is counted for each dimension. For (2) when the referential integrity failed, an error is raised also for each mandatory attribute.

Both examples are dealing with explicit data referents — the ‘parent’ data, though there are cases in which the referents are implicit, for example when the data are not available for a certain time interval (e.g. period, day) even if needed, though also for this case the referents could be made explicit, falling in the previous mentioned examples. In such scenarios all the attributes corresponding to the missing records will be null.

Normally the completeness of parent-child relations is enforced with the help of referential integrity and database transactions, a set of actions performed as a single unit of work, they allow saving the parent data only if the child data were saved successfully, though such type of constraints is not always necessary.

Data should be cleaned when feasible in the source system(s) and this applies to incomplete data as well. It might be feasible to clean the values in Excel files or similar tools, by exporting and then reimporting the clean values back into the respective systems.

In data migrations or similar scenarios, the completeness in particular and data quality in general must be judged against the target system(s) and thus the dataset must be enriched in an intermediate layer as needed. Upon case, one can consider using default values, though this sounds like a technical debt, likely improbably to be addressed later. Moreover, one should prioritize the effort and consider first the attributes which are needed for the good functioning of the target system(s).

Ideally, for the mandatory fields should be applied data validation techniques in the source systems, when feasible.

References:
[1] David Loshin (2009) “Master Data Management”

Originally published at https://sql-troubles.blogspot.com. Created: Jan-2010, Last Reviewed: Mar-2024

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Adrian

IT professional/blogger with more than 24 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management