Ensuring Data Quality With Proper Date Formatting

An Everyday Example of Date Formatting

Take a moment to glance at the shopping receipts tucked away in your wallet, especially if you’re in Canada like me. Check the dates printed on them, and you’ll likely notice a variety of formats. 

Here’s a snapshot of what I found: 

– 03/06/2024 

– 03/04/24 

– 03/01/24 

– 24/05/26 

Knowing I cleaned out my wallet in May 2024 might help you a bit, but otherwise, you’d be lost trying to decipher which dates are meant. 

– 03/06/2024 referred to March 6, 2024, but it could just as well have been June 3, 2024. 

– 03/04/24 represented April 3, 2024, but can be interpreted as March 4, 2024. Or even April 24, 2003! 

And so on… you get my point. 

Stores of American origin typically favor the Month-Day-Year format, while Canadian establishments also throw in Day-Month-Year and Year-Month-Day. 

Consequences of Poor Date Formatting

While misinterpreting dates on your shopping receipts probably isn’t catastrophic, the stakes are much higher in the business world. When you’re running a manufacturing company, errors in receiving, shipping, or expiration dates can disrupt operations. These errors also compromise data quality. And this isn’t just a Canadian concern; companies in the United States, especially those dealing with international suppliers, can find themselves in a challenging situation as well. 

As an expert in implementing and optimizing business systems (ERP, WMS, CRM), I can attest that every project I’ve been involved in has encountered date-related issues. 

Let me share one instance: 

John, using a Day-Month-Year setting in Excel, opened a worksheet with inventory data from Melissa, who used Month-Day-Year. In the expiration date column, Excel auto-converted all values where the second argument was 12 or less to a date (e.g., 09/11/2022). All other values remained unchanged (e.g., 09/29/2022) as they failed to result in valid dates. 

John realized not all values converted to dates, so he switched his setting to Month-Day-Year. This led to Excel auto-converting the second set of dates. However, the first set of dates remained unchanged. 

Result? While September 29, 2022, had converted correctly, September 11, 2022, had changed to November 9, 2022! 

Imagine the consequences wrong expiration dates could have caused if the mistake wasn’t discovered in time. 

The Value of Resolving the Problem

Beyond inventory expiration, precise dates are essential for all your enterprise systems. Whether it’s operational systems or analytical ones that derive data from them, like your dashboard or monitoring platform, consistency in date formats is vital, particularly when integrating data from multiple sources. 

Metrics on procurement performance, demand planning, and service levels depend on accurate dates. Your manufacturing company thrives on monitoring your supply chain performance. However, data analytics are only reliable when based on correct values. The need for data quality cannot be overstated. It’s a cliché, but garbage in is garbage out. Accurate data are crucial to effective decision-making and driving business success. 

Date Format Solutions 

There are a few date format options that provide more clarity and consistency: 

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) mandates that labels for perishable food items use a specific Day-Month-Year format where the month is abbreviated to two letters, for indicating expiration dates or best-before dates. It follows the bilingual convention, where abbreviations accommodate both English and French languages. For example, 15-AL-24 indicates the best-before date of April 15, 2024 (15 Avril 2024 in French). However, I’m not in favor of this format. The MA abbreviation for May always confuses me. More than once, I have misread it as March, which is abbreviated as MR. 

In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provides guidance and standards for pharmaceutical labeling and documentation. Specifically, the 21 CFR Part 211 covers Current Good Manufacturing Practice for Finished Pharmaceuticals and includes regulations that specify date formats to ensure clarity and prevent ambiguity. To meet these expectations, the pharmaceutical industry widely embraced the Day-Month-Year format where the month is abbreviated to three letters. For example, 23 NOV 2024 represents November 23, 2024. 

While both formats above use letters for the months to avoid confusion, they are language-specific and therefore not ideal. 

The Perfect Date

The Perfect Date Revealed

In my professional opinion, the date format superior in eliminating ambiguity is the ISO 8601 international standard: Year-Month-Day. For example, 2023-11-10 denotes November 10, 2023. This format has the extra advantage that it facilitates proper sorting in all situations, including in a file manager when dates are used in file or folder names. 

I strongly advocate for the adoption of this uniform and intuitive Year-Month-Day date format across industries. Governments and regulatory agencies should continue to encourage or even mandate its use, as flawless date management saves substantial amounts of time and money. 

Benefits for Manufacturers

1. Improved Accuracy and Efficiency: 

   – Fewer Errors: Consistent date formats reduce the likelihood of errors in data entry and interpretation, leading to more accurate records and transactions. 

   – Streamlined Operations: Clear and unambiguous dates improve the efficiency of scheduling, shipping, and receiving processes. 

2. Enhanced Data Integration and Analytics: 

   – Reliable Data: Standardized dates facilitate better data integration from multiple sources, enhancing the reliability of analytics and reporting. 

   – Better Decision-Making: Accurate and consistent data enables more informed decision-making, leading to improved operational performance and strategic planning. 

3. Cost Savings: 

   – Reduced Waste: Properly managed expiration dates and inventory reduce waste and spoilage, particularly for perishable goods. 

   – Lower Holding Costs: Accurate scheduling and inventory management minimize holding costs by ensuring timely receipt and use of materials. 

By adopting the consistent ISO 8601 date standard, manufacturers can mitigate the risks associated with date misinterpretation, streamline their supply chain operations, and improve overall efficiency and data quality.

Guest Post by Luc Engelen

Digital Transformation and Data Management Specialist at Engelen Information Solutions.