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Unsolved Due to Workflow Error

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The British government maintains an ambitious registry of over four million DNA samples used in crime fighting. However, some major data entry problems have left nearly 200 crimes undetected.

Quoting from The Times:

As the total number of samples on the database topped 4 million — meaning that 5.5 per cent of the UK population now has their DNA held by the Government — officials acknowledged that 5,000 of those failed entries have never been loaded, so the full consequences of the failures are not known.

A Home Office spokesman said that there was one arson attack, three robberies, nine burglaries, nineteen drugs offences, and sixty-two thefts among the 193 crimes that went unsolved because of the inputting failures, which were blamed on incomplete information and technical problems.

Workflow Issues - DNA

© Flickr user micahb37

The article continues to explain the many controversies around this database including the retention of DNA for people who have been cleared and the existence of many duplicate records. Whether you feel that a biometric registry is a great crime-fighting tool or a serious violation of civil liberties, the role of managing the system is complicated and apparently experiencing major problems. This government admission questions the integrity of the service, and makes discussing the deep social question much more difficult.

There’s a similar issue with a similar system in New York.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a review of a national DNA database, has identified nearly 170 profiles that probably contain errors, some the result of handwriting mistakes or interpretation errors by lab technicians, while New York State authorities have turned up mistakes in DNA profiles in New York’s database.

The discoveries, submitted by the New York City medical examiner’s office to a state oversight panel, show that the capacity for human error is ever-present, even when it comes to the analysis of DNA evidence, which can take on an aura of infallibility in court, defense lawyers and scientists said.

The errors identified so far implicate only a tiny fraction of the total DNA profiles in the national database, which holds nearly 13 million profiles, more than 12 million from convicts and suspects, and an additional 527,000 from crime scenes. Still, the disclosure of scores of mistaken DNA profiles at once appears to be unprecedented, scientists said.

In some cases, the discovery of an error has enabled the authorities to identify new suspects in cold cases. One such discovery has breathed new life into the murder investigation of a man found bludgeoned to death in the Bronx in 1998. It also led to new matches in two rape cases in New York City in the 1990s, although the statute of limitations for prosecution appears to have expired. In these examples, the errors were found in the DNA profiles taken from the crime scenes rather than from people convicted of crimes.

The errors had the effect of obscuring clues, blinding investigators to connections among crime scenes and known offenders. It remains to be seen whether the new DNA evidence will cast doubt on any closed cases.

It’s one thing if these errors simply make the system inefficient, but the implication of the wrong person is also possible, and that would be catastrophic for those involved. Any time a company, non-profit organization, or government provides a service or introduces a program that inspires divisive emotional reactions, issues with quality and efficiency only muddy the debate. Parliament will not be able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a national DNA registry if the office in charge cannot be be trusted to operate the database efficiently in the first place. This is the essence of process improvement and in particular process improvement consulting: understanding how data and decisions are integrated to get the best possible result.

Likewise, your operation must be especially effective when working in controversial areas or promoting change. AccelaWork provides business consulting services in these areas; helping companies maximize the impact of their methodologies, so that critics and supporters can focus on true products and services rather than supposed issues in provider quality.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@lorraineball First probably depends on the business. But second is likely training, especially with regard to sales. - 1 month ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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