The Importance of Data Lineage for Modern Businesses

In the current business landscape, businesses need to prioritize security if they want to be successful and future-proof. However, as companies leverage more and more data to inform their progress, they open themselves up to a growing number of data-related threats. To mitigate potential attacks, security teams need to know where and how data is created, how it travels, who has access to it, and where it’s stored. This is where data lineage comes in.

Data lineage is the process of tracking data as it moves within an organization in order to increase visibility and a business’s ability to secure it. In what follows, we’ll take a closer look at what data lineage is and the benefits it provides to modern organizations.

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What Is Data Lineage?

Also known as data provenance or data tracing, data lineage is a way of tracing data as it travels within a company’s systems. This process is used to get clarity around where the data is from, how it’s been processed or modified (if at all), how it’s being used currently, and who makes use of it. In other words, data lineage provides insight into the data’s lifecycle and ensures that security teams have all the information they need to implement tooling and protect the data within the organization.

Unlike traditional data protection software, which tends to classify sensitive data by matching content patterns (e.g. keywords) while it passes certain touchpoints, data lineage goes a step further, classifying more data types while reducing false positives. Data lineage can collect information on events related to each piece of data through the likes of endpoint telemetry, browser plugins, and cloud APIs. It, therefore, provides more accuracy to a security team’s efforts.

Done well, data lineage can also become a go-to channel for all users to learn about an organization’s data and how it has evolved over time. It should be easy to access and navigate, therefore making any troubleshooting or queries easy to address.

5 Benefits of Data Lineage for Modern Businesses

While data lineage plays an important role in security, it also supports business initiatives. In fact, as businesses become more data-driven, data lineage is quickly becoming a core capability for leaders and individual contributors to make strategic decisions. The key benefits for growing and evolving organizations include:

1. It Builds More Trust in the Organization’s Data

One of the core benefits of data lineage is that it empowers users to build more objective trust in their data. Specifically, data lineage solutions can provide details for each piece of data, such as:

  • Where it originated (e.g. a customer database, the source code repository in Github, or from the product design in Figma).
  • How it has been used (e.g. imported into a Google Sheet, shared via a Slack automation, or added to a candidate’s profile on the internal HR platform).
  • Who has modified it (e.g. which users have manipulated the data and how).

With added trust in the data, employees are better able to make decisions that have either local or widespread applications.

2. It Reduces the Unknown Unknowns

For many IT and security teams, there’s a lot of not knowing what you don’t know. With remote access to workplace networks, lacking documentation, and poor communication between IT and security teams, it can be nearly impossible to get a full understanding of where data is being produced and stored (and how it’s being shared) within the organization. These gaps in visibility ultimately become vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can leverage, running quiet attacks that aren’t spotted until it’s too late.

With data lineage technology, data and security teams can have a clearer insight into how data flows, and they can use that information to proactively implement or refine security measures.

3. It Improves Data Governance Efforts

Gdpr Data-Protection Privacy

Data governance is a framework for determining how data is stored, integrated, protected, and otherwise managed within an organization. Without data lineage, data governance can be particularly difficult to implement. To be most effective, a data governance framework will have different rules for different types of data. However, without the details and context that come with data lineage, these rules cannot be run automatically (or accurately). Data lineage provides the visibility required with regard to data origin, sensitivity, and usage so that data governance can be more nuanced.

4. It Speeds Up Root Cause Analysis

An ongoing challenge with data is that when there’s a data quality issue, whether that’s an incorrect entry or a missing data point, it’s hard to pinpoint where it was introduced. For instance, if you’re moving data from one database to another, a section of data could be corrupted in the migration and lead queries or functions to fail. With data lineage, you can quickly examine the migration process and identify why the data got corrupted so you can fix it.

5. It Improves Data Quality

Similarly, data lineage can also support teams in ensuring that the quality of the data is consistently high. Data lineage helps identify when exactly data quality issues are introduced, providing teams with the ability to pinpoint the issue and solve it. In addition, data lineage can support data quality enhancement workflows where automation tools fix issues on their own.

Redefining Data Security

The last decade has seen the collapse of the perimeter. Today, data security is less about preventing things from leaving the corporate network or servers. Rather, it’s about ensuring that that data is protected as it moves across the enterprise and in the cloud. Data security policies need to be nuanced and adaptable, and the technologies you use to uphold these policies need to account for those nuances. Data lineage is one way to increase visibility while also positioning your business to make better strategic decisions.

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