From Odysseus to Wonder Woman, every hero has an origin story.

Whether they are about orphans or gods, unwilling champions or those born into greatness, origin stories are compelling narratives that position the protagonist in the world. They give the audience an understanding of who the main character is, why events are significant to them, and what motivates their actions. 

The data you collect about your consumers is the ultimate superhero for your business. Data, when harnessed properly, acts like Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, giving you powerful information to inform your decision-making and guide your interactions with people depending on you for a service.

But just like Clark Kent had to travel to the Fortress of Solitude to fully understand what it meant to be Superman, you need to understand your data’s origin story to be able to maximize its potential.

What is data lineage and why is it important?

Data lineage is your data’s origin story.

To put it in today’s business terminology, data lineage is a big picture, full description of a data record. It includes the data type and size, the quality of the information included, the journey this information takes through your systems, how and why it changes as it travels, and how it’s used.

Understanding data lineage can help you establish and maintain compliance with the new, robust data privacy laws that are being passed every year, develop more accurate datasets, and give you contextual information about how your customer base is changing over time.

This may sound vague and buzzwordy, but there are real-world applications for designing efficient workflows, improving product management, creating effective marketing strategies, and building responsive customer service protocols that come from having a granular understanding of your data.

Also, and this is a big one, understanding and establishing a thorough data lineage is critical to building an agile, customer-centric privacy compliance program. 

Even if you don’t “get” the technical aspects of data lineage, knowing you need it is a big step in the right direction. If you are a small business or a non-technical person, there are affordable, easy ways to establish your data lineage, build a compliance program, and understand your risks.

Red Clover Advisors is the partner you need to simplify your data mapping and privacy programs. Drop us a line to find out how we can lighten your load while improving your performance.

Types of data lineage

Just like Bruce Wayne had multiple influences that turned him into Batman—his parents, the Joker, Alfred, etc.—there are different data lineage perspectives that make up what you probably think of as your “data.” 

These perspectives vary based on who is using the data and why. Knowing the differences between them will give you a more holistic view of your data program’s challenges and opportunities.

Business lineage

Business-focused departments like marketing, sales, finance, and operations need to be able to quickly find and analyze data to make important decisions related to industry and customer trends, product development, and advertising spend. The process of making all that happen is business lineage.

Business lineage is what most people think of when they think about data—it’s the information that powers a business intelligence (BI) program. Business teams need to be able to understand where the data is coming from and how it got there to ensure the resulting decisions are accurate and based on the correct data sets.

Technical lineage

Unsurprisingly, technical data lineage tracks the technical side of how data is collected and how it exists and travels through your systems. Technical lineage is responsible for detailing how your IT department handles privacy compliance, data sharing and transformation processes, and data joining (combining multiple data sets) protocols.

Good technical lineage tracking infrastructure allows you to identify vulnerabilities in your system and to determine how any changes to your processes will impact your data management capabilities.

Directional view

Looking at your data from this point of view focuses on where your data comes from, where it goes, and what happens to it while it’s moving. Being able to track data this way makes it easier to identify the root of errors.

Impact view

The impact view of data shows you how all your pieces of data are interrelated and how your data security program impacts those relationships.

How data lineage impacts data privacy

If you’re like most business owners, technical lineage vs. business lineage and directional view vs. impact view may not mean much to you. That’s okay.

You don’t need to be able to set up your data lineage yourself, but you do need to understand why it’s important for customer service, compliance, and security. 

Customer Service

If you’re overwhelmed, we have good news for you. All of this not-flashy, super technical, confusing data lineage and privacy stuff presents a unique opportunity for you to prove to your customers that you care about them and deserve their trust.

Can you believe it? You can boost your reputation by doing something you legally have to do anyway!

Instead of viewing a privacy program as a drain on your resources, see it as a chance to show your users how important they are to you. Promote your efforts to protect their information. Give them options to control how you use their data and tell them you are doing it.

Use your data lineage efforts to prove to them that you are going beyond compliance because you respect them.


After the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which established robust protections for consumers’ sensitive personal information, other government bodies followed suit.

Unlike the EU, the United States doesn’t have an overarching federal privacy law. Instead, the US employs a sectoral approach, which allows each state to pass its privacy laws.

Always happy to be first, California passed the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) and the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA). Nevada and Virginia have also passed comprehensive privacy laws, and multiple states have privacy legislation proposed. The California and Virginia legislation will go into effect on January 1st, 2023.

Almost all these laws require companies operating in or collecting information from residents within their borders to have a data inventory. Data inventories are the part of data lineage that allows you to quickly identify the records of individuals who want to remove or alter their stored personal information. 

These laws have substantial fines and sanction options for companies that don’t comply with the opt-out, right to deletion, and right to correction requirements.

If you don’t understand your data lineage on at least a basic level, it will be difficult to adequately and accurately build a data inventory.


The GDPR, CCPA, CPRA, and other similar laws include a mandate that companies employ reasonable security measures to protect the sensitive personal information they collect from customers.

One step further, modern privacy laws establish hefty fines and civil, even criminal, liabilities if a data breach exposes certain categories of consumer data.

Both business and technical data lineages face substantial and sometimes overlapping security risks. These risks include:

  • Weak permissions and access protocols
  • Overzealous data collection practices
  • Inadequate employee training
  • Excessive timelines for data storage
  • Vendors with poor privacy practices
  • Non-compliant privacy and cookie notices

Understanding data lineage through data mapping will expose the vulnerabilities in your system.

Improve your data quality with data lineage

It is easy for data to be degraded every time it is moved, interpreted, processed, or altered. Using data lineage to understand where your data is moving, who is interpreting it, how it is being processed, and what alterations are made make it much easier to complete a root-cause analysis when errors occur.

We know most people are not privacy experts. You don’t need to be. The experts at Red Clover Advisors excel at designing elegant, simple, and affordable data mapping solutions you need. 

Contact us today to get started.