Guest Column | September 26, 2019

How MSPs Can Help Customers Track Data Origin

By Nick Harshbarger, SentryOne

Big Data

Knowing the source of business data is critical in an era of increasing data privacy regulations. With the number of data sources rapidly and continually expanding for most companies, the challenges of establishing the source of data—and potential repercussions of data source changes—isn’t likely to ease up any time soon.

Managed service providers can provide their customers with significant value, saving them time and money, by offering an easy way to fully document a database, including data lineage. Understanding the source of data, and how the source of data has changed over time, is critical to ensuring compliance with data privacy regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Canada's Anti-Spam Law (CASL), as well as executing on established business rules.

Back To The Source

Data lineage—tracing specific data back to its point of origin—provides a wealth of information for your customers, including:

  • the original source of the data
  • how the data relates to and interacts with other data (data dependencies)
  • information needed to support regulatory compliance
  • information needed to help diagnose broken data integration and workflow packages or reports
  • how the data source and structure has transformed over time

A clear view of data lineage means a clearer view of data sources and destinations. For many businesses—particularly large organizations that have many different data sources—finding the source of specific data and tracking data lineage changes can be time-consuming and frustrating. However, having clear visibility of where personally identifiable information (PII) is stored and used is crucial for complying with data privacy regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, and CASL.

As diverse data sources and systems become bound together over time, working your way through the resulting maze of data can feel futile. Some companies even give up and simply create new data, a waste of resources and a source of added expense.

Difficulty tracing data lineage can even negatively affect your own business as a provider of technology solutions. Data is a crucial decision-making tool for every organization today. Frustrations caused by an inability to access requested data—say, broken reports that delay the sales forecasts or overly complex data structures that make it hard to comply with data privacy regulations—can fuel dissatisfaction with the company’s data-related products and services. And that can affect your bottom line.

Your customers’ DevOps and IT teams also depend on data lineage when launching new software development efforts. A clear view of the origin and transformation of data is especially important when so many technological innovations and revenue streams are based on new types of and uses for data.

Back To The Future

Proper data lineage isn’t just about looking back. It's also about understanding what happens if an object is deleted, moved, or modified. How will that change affect other data? Will it break something else up or down the line?

The ability to trace dependencies in both directions can save developers and database administrators countless hours. And this approach encourages better data handling practices, which equate to happier customers in the future, too.

Data Lineage, Simplified

MSPs should explore tools that simplify the database documentation and data lineage process for their customers. These tools should be able to easily determine where data originates, how it’s used, and the future impact of proposed changes.

Some tools offer features enabling users to view lineage details throughout the path of an object. For example, they can explore a report field to determine the database in which it originates, the data migration package that populated the column in that database, and so on. In this way, they can view the flow of data, right down to the column or component level.

MSPs should also consider implementing tools that help your customers look at the potential repercussions of changes they might be considering.

Some tools offer dependency tracing in both directions so that users can determine both what an object depends on and which other objects depend on it. Users can more easily evaluate the impact of changes to database objects, data migration packages, and reports.

Data privacy regulations have certainly created a more complex environment for companies to operate in, and urgently created a need to understand the origin of data in a more granular way than ever before. It’s a great opportunity for MSPs to offer services that help customers better understand the source of the data and help them come fully into compliance, while also running their business more effectively.

Nick Harshbarger, SentryOneAbout The Author

Nick Harshbarger (@nicharsh) is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Channels for SentryOne and is responsible for leading the SentryOne Global Partner Network.