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Data Privacy

Best Practices for Effective Data Mapping

DataGrail, July 15, 2022

What is the purpose of data mapping? Do you remember the first time you moved your contacts from a handwritten system into a cell phone? It required looking through your handwritten notes, reading names, translating nicknames, making sure addresses were correct, adding cell phone and home phone numbers, and you had to input all of this information into the correct fields on your new cell phone.

This was an early example of data mapping techniques.

These days, things are more complex. Businesses collect large amounts of data from their customers through digital interactions—everything from email subscriptions to browsing their websites. Live Data Mapping allows businesses to organize all that data. Data mapping and GDPR compliance are important, as it is necessary that businesses protect customer data both for moral and legal reasons. Data mapping best practices ensure that customer data is secure and accessible when needed.

Consider How Data is Collected, Identified, and Stored

Let’s go back to our basic example from above. With each handwritten entry, you have to identify certain basic information such as:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Email address

That may seem easy enough, but what if you wrote your entries in confusing ways? Maybe one entry has someone’s name and phone number but another entry has their address next to a nickname. You need to know that those two entries belong together to complete the transfer to your phone.

This is similar to the problems faced in data mapping. You compile customer data in many different ways. Just some examples include:

  • Website interaction
  • Brick and mortar purchases
  • Third-party interactions
  • Mobile apps

All of these outlets may compile data differently. That means if one customer interacts through multiple channels, it may not be obvious that the information belongs to the same person. This creates a business inefficiency, lack of data integrity and potential security issues. 

As an example, let’s look at healthcare. If a healthcare provider has ineffective data mapping and integration, they may not be able to access full patient history or patient information could be given to the wrong parties, creating privacy regulation issues. 

To help ensure your data is collected, identified, and stored with good practice, consider these tips:

  • Make sure all possible data is identified, collected, and protected – Especially when it comes to sensitive data or data that is regulated, you cannot have data fall through the cracks and remain unmapped. Make data source discovery and data loss prevention a priority.
  • Keep record of how data is identified and collected – Creating a handbook that lists out how data moves from raw collection to your refined systems. This ensures you always know where to look for certain information.
  • Ensure high-level security wherever data is stored – Security is tantamount when dealing with customer data. Being sure you have the best security possible is important for business, legal, and ethical reasons.

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Automate to Streamline Systems

As your business grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain effective data mapping through only manual processes. This is where data management and automation comes in. Automated data migration tools give you the advantage of easy scalability and are less prone to errors compared to a manual data mapping process. 

With automation tools, you can also start to resolve issues of terminology. For instance, let’s say one channel identifies a customer’s name through a field labeled Name but another channel labels it ID, you can set your automation tools to recognize that these fields are identifying the same information thereby recognizing the relationship across the two channels.

When automation comes into play, consider these tips:

  • Choose intuitive tools – Data mapping techniques will often involve multiple departments and many different people. Using tools that are easy to understand will make sure that everyone will be able to successfully integrate into your data map.
  • Be sure the tools you choose can be tailored to your needs – Different businesses will have different requirements from their data maps. Be sure that the tools you choose are customizable in a way that will work for your needs.
  • Use tools that support different formats You don’t want to discover that some of your customer data is incompatible with your data mapping tools.

Maintain and Keep Record of Your Data Map

While automation can ease issues of scalability and resolve different terminologies, it is not a “set it and forget it” solution. Responsible data mapping will require regular audits to make sure that your systems are functioning correctly. Data mapping techniques worth implementing include:

  • Update flows – Making sure terminology is up-to-date and that all data collection channels are being accounted for so that there are no cracks in your data map.
  • Maintenance scheduling – Be sure to have set times where you can go in and provide any maintenance needed to make sure the tools you are using are functioning without error.
  • Identifying data sharing – Multiple laws including the GDPR and CCPA give legal protections to consumers that allow them to access their data. To be sure you can comply with these laws you need to have an accurate record of all the data you’ve collected, where it came from, whether it has been shared, and who it was shared with.
  • Keep track of any changes that are made – This will allow for easier auditing and for you to catch any mistakes in your data map.

Always Test First

As you’re reviewing your data and creating systems to understand its flow, it can help to create a safety net as you try out new protocols and procedures. Be sure that you can test out your systems with sample data before you start mapping real customer data so you can identify problems ahead of time.

Optimize Your Data Mapping with DataGrail

Having a growing business is exciting. That excitement shouldn’t be dampened by the responsibilities that come with compiling more and more customer data. Live data mapping tools from DataGrail integrate the data mapping best practices described above to make sure that all your customer data is discovered and mapped. That way you can grow your business confident that your customer data is secure and legally compliant.


American Health Information Management Association. Data Mapping and Its Impact on Data Integrity. 

GDPR.EU. What is GDPR, the EU’s new data protection law? 

State of California Department of Justice. California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Data Mapping: Tools & Best Practices. 

Datagrail. What Is Data Mapping? 

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