Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Data?

Imagine if you went onto Amazon and there was no search engine, no history of what you viewed, no semblance to how the site functions. It would be complete and total anarchy! You would never be able to see that set of serrated steak knives that you’ve been painstakingly researching and know you need. The point is, Amazon is just one example of a company that does incredibly well at utilizing the data it collects on its customers to benefit its sales and profits. Now imagine that your company could very well do the same. With effective data mapping, it can.

So, what exactly is data mapping? Generally, data mapping is the process of linking data from one information source or system of a business to different data from another. Data mapping is very beneficial to any business as it makes decision-making more data-driven, which helps minimize various potential issues that lead to lower sales and profits. With a clear data map, managers and other stakeholders have access to substantial amounts of actionable information, and they can easily understand large amounts of data without the confusion that results from taking a siloed approach to data.

Think of a data map as an index of a company’s information systems and records. As such, a data map can provide an easily accessible reference to determine where and how data is stored. This is specifically valuable when determining data that a company considers most valuable or most risky. For example, when a company wants to quickly find information related to a customer, a data map offers a straightforward and comprehensive method to identify the multiple business units and information systems where such data lives. There are several other benefits of data mapping:

  • Regulatory compliance by mapping to specific legal measures

  • Clean data/classified data for easier analysis, helping your business make decisions faster

  • Gains in efficiency in all areas of the business

  • A better understanding of your customer base, increasing sales and profitability

  • A more thorough comprehension of trends while they are happening to help your business shift and stay ahead of the curve

  • A potential revelation of duplicates in technology being utilized, (various technology that does the same thing) helping to consolidate assets and reduce costs

  • Enhanced data security backup and record retention practices

  • Improved overall collaboration between various business units and get the most out of your data

  • And from a legal standpoint:

    • Faster and more accurate litigation holds

    • Streamlined data requests to ensure compliance with regards to the CCPA/GDPR

    • Descriptions of potentially responsive data, by category and location

Where most organizations fail when it comes to creating a data map is on the front end of the process. They do not put enough emphasis on doing their due diligence to understand what their goal may be in defining data. Whether it be aligning data to certain regulatory or legal obligations, gaining insight on your customer data to help build revenue streams, or helping operationalize the business, it is good practice to have clearly defined outcomes. These are all good examples of results to shoot for.

Designing, implementing, and maintaining a data map involves several steps that should include:

  • Reviewing existing data maps:  Employees or business units may have already started their data maps for various reasons. These could be useful to help understand where that data resides and what the data entails.

  • Defining scope:  There are various levels of detail you may choose depending on the goal of the map. Most organizations choose to focus their efforts on mapping the most critical information first and spend less detailed efforts on areas that won’t have a critical impact on the business.

  • Pinpointing key sources:  Understanding the regulatory pressures, and legal constraints of your data could prove valuable. Legal and risk areas of the business can offer insight as well as outside consultation. Those defined sources could determine the area of focus of your data map.

  • Collecting information:  Basic information about your data sources should be collected, such as: who owns the data/system; what policies govern retention and management; how it is stored, collected, and reviewed.

  • Understanding the purpose of the data:  Is it used to market to your consumers? Will it help from a financial analysis standpoint? Is it in compliance? Is it creating a risk? To gain knowledge of the data (where and how it’s stored, and its various uses), interviews with the various business groups and employees are necessary.

  • Centralizing the data:  If the information can be easily accessed, searched, and updated, it can be used to help business units align business goals, market more efficiently, and promote more fluid discussion across the enterprise. This process can be done manually, or you can choose to automate through commercially available software.

  • Maintaining the data map:  Once the data map is created, there should be a plan to maintain and update the map to reflect changes. It is highly recommended to use technology to automate the management of your data map as it will help keep your organization from getting bogged down with manual efforts in data management.

A comprehensive data map can be an extremely valuable asset, particularly when it pertains to highly sensitive, extremely valuable, or exceedingly risky data. Generating a data map can be complex and require substantial effort, but by focusing initially on high-priority data sources, you can reduce legal risk, decrease discovery costs, improve your security posture, and gain real value out of your data.

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