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What is Data Lineage Software and Why Do You Need It?

What Is Data Lineage Software

Know anyone who’s gone off the grid?

It’s a popular trend, whether it’s motivated by the desire to live sustainably, to experience a slower, less distracted pace of life, or to disappear from the eyes of society.

But while going-off-the-grid-and-becoming-untraceable might be wonderful for some human folks, it’s not what you want happening to your data.

When data goes off the grid

Anyone who manages data has experienced the frustration at one time or another of trying to track down a piece of data or a particular step in the data’s journey that just refused to be traced. 

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Where is it already?! (This gets even worse when it’s someone else’s question and they’re waiting on you for the answer.)

Hopefully this doesn’t happen too often, but it shouldn’t need to happen at all. And it doesn’t – if you have data lineage software.

Data lineage software is the ultimate tracker and tracer for your data. Pick out any data point in your data environment, and data lineage tools will map its entire journey: from where it entered your environment until where it ends or leaves. The data lineage map includes everything that happened to your data point along the way: what transformations it went through, what calculations it was a part of, what fields it influenced. 

Data lineage software is a mission-critical tool in any data management program. Let’s take a look at some of the specific cases where you need it.  

Coordinating data in multiple systems

Your data environment is a happening place. There isn’t only one place for data to hang out; they bar hop from ETL program to analytics program to reporting program. They jump from CRM to 3PL to revenue system.

How can you keep track of your data’s stops and what it does there? How can you confirm that data called “customer LTV” in your revenue system is the same as the data called “customer LTV” in your analytics program? 

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Enterprise data lineage software to the rescue. With column-to-column lineage, it becomes clear exactly what happened when data passed from one system to another within your data environment. 

No guesses. No loose ends. No identity crises. Data lineage mapping makes the hops and connections visible and trackable. Your data may be on the go, but it’s still on the grid. 


It’s a rare enterprise that doesn’t fall under the influence of at least one regulatory compliance standard. GDPR, HIPAA, CCPA, IFRS 17, BCBS 239… The regulatory authorities demand that your data management be held to certain standards, and you better comply. 

The prerequisite for compliance with almost any regulatory standard is being able to locate the data being regulated. Then comes accessing the data, and modifying the data. Oh, and you need to be able to prove that you did all these things when you were supposed to (otherwise known as “an audit,” but that term can give people nightmares, so we prefer to avoid using it).

Automated data lineage software is your faithful tracker, enabling you to easily and quickly locate the regulated data and trace its path through your systems. 

This ability is critical both in maintaining compliance, and in proving compliance when needed. If a client asks that you delete all their personal information from your systems (as they have the right to under GDPR), automated data lineage can go from any data point identified as the client’s personal information and trace it throughout your data landscape, ensuring that you find and address it in every single instance.

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Sometimes finding and showing the exact path your data has taken is not a demand, but an ideal. Non-profits that want to show their donors exactly where their money has gone, for example, can use automated data lineage to trace monetary assets from source (e.g. when they left the donor’s pocket and entered the non-profit’s system) to target (e.g. when they were spent, leaving the non-profit’s system).

While mapping this manually would take considerable manhours (ostensibly constituting a waste of money and disappointing donors), automated data lineage can provide transparency on a donation’s path within minutes. When donors can see exactly what their donation has accomplished (and rely on the information), they are encouraged to donate more. A virtuous cycle for any non-profit.

Predict the future and preempt issues

Having an enthusiastic, innovative employee base is a great thing for an enterprise. Usually. 

It’s when an enthusiastic employee innovates something in your data system without checking what it could break that things, err, break down.

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Data lineage solutions can help you predict the future without a crystal ball by giving you a crystal clear understanding of the present. Whenever a change is proposed, data lineage software can start at the data elements that will be changed and trace them backwards and forwards throughout your data landscape, identifying all parts of the system that could be affected. 

Empowered with this knowledge, you can intelligently evaluate proposed changes and take steps to prevent negative impacts ahead of time. Just make sure enthusiastic employees check in with you before they innovate.

Trustworthy data: the key to great business decisions

Data-driven decision-making is a wonderful idea that can achieve spectacular results for an enterprise. But it depends on the quality of the two entities involved:

  • The data
  • The decision-maker

Give a brilliant analytical business mind together with some bad data, and you will get some really bad business decisions. The decisions would have been amazing had the data reflected reality. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

If this happens one time too often, the brilliant analytical business minds in your organization will come to a very accurate data-driven decision: not to rely on your data anymore.

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Don’t let this happen. 

Data lineage software is your partner in ferreting out any inaccuracies in your data pipeline. This can be done for data before delivering it to the brilliant mind for analysis and decisions, or, on the (hopefully) rare occasions where there does turn out to be an issue with the data, you’ll at least be able to quickly track down where in the pipeline things went wrong. Prompt explanations of why the data was inaccurate and what you’re doing to prevent issues in the future will keep trust in your data high. 

Keep your data in line with data lineage software

In 2009, writer Evan Ratliff tried to vanish, partially going off the grid, partially taking on false identities. He challenged the world to find him within a month. From August 15th to September 15th, would-be private investigators joined forces on social media to track down and share every shred of data they could unearth about Ratliff’s past and present activities. In the end, they succeeded, with two of the primary “Ratliff hunters” coming face-to-face with him on September 8th. 

The complexity and length of the Ratliff hunt bear a striking resemblance to trying to track down data or reverse engineer a data issue without the help of data lineage software. It’s painstaking. It’s time-consuming. It’s uber-frustrating.

Had Ratliff been a datum in an environment with automated data lineage tools, he would have been found in minutes or, at most, a day, no matter how hard he tried to vanish. 

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Don’t let your data put on a vanishing act. Leverage data lineage software to keep it close at hand.

Solve a Reporting Error in Minutes, not Weeks. View the Impact of a Change in Seconds, not Days.
Octopai's Data Lineage XD automatically maps the data flow end-to-end giving complete visibility into your data.
Schedule a Personalized Demo

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Solve a Reporting Error in Minutes, not Weeks. View the Impact of a Change in Seconds, not Days.
Octopai's Data Lineage XD automatically maps the data flow end-to-end giving complete visibility into your data.
Schedule a Personalized Demo