To achieve success and avoid failure, there are fundamental principles that every responsible, committed leader strives to embody in their organisation to protect the firm’s reputation and remain operational.

Both leaders and organisations need to be trusted and credible. Decisions must be based on the best available information; risks need to be controlled; they must be legally compliant; and all of this must happen while maintaining operations as efficiently as possible.

All these fundamentals can be completely undermined when data integrity is compromised, yet its critical role is rarely talked about, often overlooked or tacitly accepted. While companies focus resources on data gathering, analysis, and security, compromised or poorly organised data can undermine these efforts. The saying ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ emphasises the importance of identifying poor data. While national security and law enforcement prioritise data integrity, businesses are only now gradually recognising the urgent need to address this issue.

However, despite increased awareness, the complex nature of the problem makes it persistently challenging to tackle effectively. So why is data integrity such a big issue? It is vital for reliability and trustworthiness, with accurate information crucial for making informed decisions in various domains and criticality often intensified when those decisions are acted upon by automated systems or AI.

Compromised integrity can lead to severe consequences, affecting everything from security breaches to financial losses. Industries adhering to data privacy laws face penalties for non-compliance, and poor data integrity may indicate weak governance. Preventing unauthorised access and data breaches is imperative, as tampered data can be exploited for cyber attacks or system manipulation, introducing the risk of ‘data poisoning’.

So, if it is accepted that ensuring data integrity is vitally important, what are the key challenges we need to address to maintain it? Human error poses a major threat to data integrity, arising from mistakes in data entry, mishandling, or unintentional leaks. The rapid generation of data, driven by real-time streams and big data analytics, complicates the task of ensuring integrity, especially for large organisations with diverse systems like legacy, cloud, and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms.

Complexity increases with varied data formats and evolving threats, challenging the delicate balance between access and security. Supply chain risks further jeopardise data integrity in numerous sectors. Overcoming these challenges requires significant investments in technology, training and personnel, a task often constrained by resource limitations, especially in smaller organisations.

Maintaining data integrity is vital for industry, national security, and law enforcement due to its impact on decision-making, trust, compliance and security. However, there are many challenges to overcome to truly achieve this. High confidence in data integrity is essential for building trust, reducing risk, complying with regulations and improving operational efficiency. It is a foundational element for the success and sustainability of modern businesses.

Organisations across sectors must continuously adapt and invest in data integrity measures to protect their critical information assets. To mitigate risks, prioritising data governance, investing in data quality assurance processes and implementing robust cyber security measures are essential.

Regular data audits, employee training and the use of advanced data analytics tools can also help improve data integrity and reduce these potential threats.

Maintaining data integrity can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Across both our organisations we have continually developed advanced techniques to minimise the operational burden of doing so. Using the latest in advanced data analysis and machine learning we can identify previously unknown data inputs, find data gaps, organise data structures, identify inconsistent, incorrect, or compromised data and rectify it. Regardless of the method taken or tools used, for a business to have organisational success, it is essential to acknowledge that preserving data integrity is paramount and it’s imperative to take appropriate actions to uphold it.

Innes Auchterlonie is CEO of Imrandd, a data science and engineering consultancy specialist.

Major General Martin Smith CB MBE is a former Commandant General of the Royal Marines, now MD of CyberPrism, a cyber security as a service company which protects operational technology (OT) and IT.

Partner Content in association with Imrandd and CyberPrism.