Data doesn’t stay in one place these days. Data governance for ever-moving, ever-changing data needs to mindful of the movements and their repercussions. It needs to map the data flow.

For a long time, we have believed data to be independent bits of information captured and stored for fragmented purposes. It has long been treated as a one-way street with a dead-end at the data warehouse. We can’t afford to do that anymore.

Today, data isn’t static. 

With every organization tracking customer journeys, footprints, behavior and activity, each piece of information is constantly updated and/or modified. Added to that, even within the organization, data rarely resides in one place. Used for multiple purposes across various user groups, data is always in motion.

This makes governance — managing, protecting, and discovering data — that much more challenging.

Which is why, while building a data governance program, understanding the flow of your data is just as important as knowing its residence. You can save valuable time, energy and efficiency by keeping a keen eye on where your data comes from, where is goes and how it leaves your enterprise systems.

I&I’s three-phase business-aligned data governance model incorporates the understanding of data flow as a critical step in the first phase.

We begin by setting up interviews with individuals in each business unit. This will show how each business unit uses data to accomplish their important business tasks on a daily basis. While facilitating the business unit interviews, we focus on developing insights in four key areas: data, user, system, usage.

Based on these interviews, we’ll build a glossary of terms/data units used by each business unit. We’ll collect a list of all business units who use that data. We’ll understand how they are storing that data and what they use it for.

For instance, below is an extremely simplified demonstration of this process. We’ve identified the business data glossary, as seen in column one. We’ve listed all the business units that may be using one or more of these data groups as in column two. We have also accommodated all technology systems that use this data in column three. And what it’s used for in column four.

Now comes the interesting part — mapping data movement!

In the below diagram, you’ll notice that customer data is used by marketing and research. While marketing is storing the data in BI platforms, research maintains them in spreadsheets. This shows us that there are two possibilities — single business unit using multiple systems and multiple business units sharing the same system. Each situation manifests itself in different ways.

Single business unit using multiple systems can lead to errors. For instance, it is possible that the legal business unit in your organization is using data from excel sheets as well as ERP to ensure compliance in contracting. Without common nomenclature, tracking of data flow, monitoring duplication/update etc., legal business unit might be informed by erroneous data.

On the other hand, two business units using the same system may result in double the damage. For instance, the marketing BU may be using the data from BI systems to run campaigns. Simultaneously, the finance BU may be using the same data to create financial reports for annual meetings. Without a robust data governance system, both the business units will be impacted, even though their use cases are completely different.

A clear data flow diagram serves as the blueprint for a robust data governance strategy. It presents visually the flow of data, users and interdependencies. It enables organizations manage their data efficiently — wherever they go, however fast they flow.

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