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Data Inventory Explained

What Is Data Inventory?

A data inventory identifies, collects, and organizes personal data across systems, tracks sources of data, and helps map how an organization’s data assets are stored and shared (data mapping). Data inventories are extremely helpful for complying with privacy regulations like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) as amended by the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA).

The Role of Data Inventory in Data Management

A data inventory helps provide organizations with an overview of their data assets to make informed decisions regarding data governance, data privacy, and compliance requirements.

The Data Inventory Process

  1. Identify Data Sources: Data sources can include databases, spreadsheets, software applications, internal business systems, third-party data feeds, etc. This list can be large, so it's important to identify all organizational data sources to ensure a comprehensive data inventory.
  2. Collect Data Points: Data points refer to individual pieces of information that form a dataset. Meticulously collecting data points is an essential part of the data inventory process.
  3. Organize the Data Inventory: A data inventory can be organized using various methods like spreadsheets, databases, or data cataloging software.
  4. Automate Data Inventory Management: Automating the data inventory process and ongoing management can save time and reduce errors in data collection and categorization.

The Role of Metadata in Data Mapping

Data mapping is an essential, foundational process for organizations that desire a comprehensive and compliant privacy program. The process of data mapping involves tracking, documenting, and integrating the various data elements (data sources, data fields, data systems, data warehouses, etc.) a company controls and uses to collect data, along with all internal and external third-party systems that hold the collected data.

Metadata is “data about data,” and provides context for the data being mapped, making it easier to map and integrate with other data sources and workflows.

  • Importance of Metadata in Data Inventory: Metadata helps categorize data assets, ensures data quality, and assists in complying with data privacy regulations.
  • Mapping Data Flows: Mapping data flows is essential for understanding how an organization collects, processes, and stores data.

Types of Data for Data Inventory

  • Categorizing Data Assets: Data assets can be categorized based on their type, source, or usage. Classifying and organizing data assets helps organizations understand their importance, value, and potential risks.
  • Sensitive Data and Personal Data: Sensitive data refers to data requiring extra protection due to its potential impact on individuals or organizations. Personal data refers to any information that can be used to identify an individual.
  • Difference Between Structured and Unstructured Data: Structured data is organized in a predefined manner, like in a database, while unstructured data doesn’t follow any predefined format and can include text, images, videos, etc.

Data Governance and Risk Assessment

Data governance encompasses the overall management of an organization's data assets to ensure the availability, usability, integrity, accuracy, privacy, and security of the data. 

It involves defining and implementing policies, procedures, and controls to govern the entire data lifecycle, from creation and collection to storage, analysis, dissemination, and deletion. 

How To Conduct a Risk Assessment

Risk assessments help identify potential risks associated with data assets and determine appropriate measures for mitigating those risks.

Manual data risk assessment process:

  1. Inventory sensitive data
  2. Assign data classifications
  3. Cross-functional assessment team decides which sensitive data to prioritize
  4. Review related security and privacy controls
  5. Fulfill assessment and document privacy/security shortcomings and potential risks

GDPR Compliance and Regulatory Requirements

  • Regulatory Compliance Requirements and Data Privacy Regulations: Compliance requirements refer to legal and regulatory requirements and data privacy regulations like GDPR, CCPA, etc. that organizations must follow to protect personal data, ensure data privacy, and continue legal operations.

Decision-Making Best Practices for Data Inventory

Organizations can analyze their data discovery and data processing activities to better understand the overview of their data assets and improve decision-making regarding data governance, data privacy, data optimization, and compliance requirements.

  • Why You Should Optimize Your Data Inventory Workflow: Optimizing data inventory workflow can help save time and reduce errors in data collection and categorization.

Key Stakeholders

  • Collaboration Between Stakeholders and Data Scientists: Collaboration between stakeholders and data scientists can be critical for creating an accurate and comprehensive data inventory. Stakeholders provide insights into the importance and use of data assets, while data scientists provide technical expertise in categorizing and analyzing data. To note: Having a data scientist on staff isn’t required. 
  • Understanding Data Privacy and Compliance Regulations: Both stakeholders and data scientists need to understand data privacy regulations to ensure an organization’s data inventory is compliant with legal requirements.

How To Create a Comprehensive Data Inventory

For manual data inventory processes, questionnaires and templates can collect information about data assets and ensure a comprehensive data inventory.

However, this process can be extremely time-consuming and complex. DataGrail can help automate these data inventory workflows to reduce the risk of human error and improve efficiency. 

The Bottom Line on Data Inventory

An accurate, comprehensive data inventory helps provide organizations with an overview of their data assets to make informed decisions regarding data governance, data privacy, and compliance requirements.

Organizations that identify data sources, collect data points, organize the data inventory, and automate data inventory management can gain better insights into the data they collect, where it’s held, with whom it’s shared, and how it’s transferred.

This process is essential for effective data governance, compliance with data privacy regulations, and informed decision-making.


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