What is Data Lineage?

Data is one of the most valuable and strategic assets for an organization. However, data is also complex and dynamic, as it comes from various sources, undergoes multiple transformations, and serves different purposes. Organizations need a clear and comprehensive understanding of data origin, flow, and quality to manage and leverage data effectively. This is where data lineage comes in.

Data lineage is a core aspect of data management. It offers organizations a holistic view of their data's journey and enables data quality, governance, compliance, and analytics.

Data Lineage Overview

Data lineage is the process of tracking data flow over time, from its source to its destination, including any transformations, schemas, and metadata that affect it. It’s essential for various use cases and scenarios, such as strategic reliance on data, data in flux, data migrations, and data governance, where data lineage can help organizations ensure regulatory compliance, data privacy, data security, and data-driven decision-making.

Data lineage tools help data professionals and stakeholders understand their data's origin, history, and quality and the impact of any changes or issues on the data. They serve various purposes and benefits, such as providing a record of the data's history and provenance, enabling traceability and suitability of its usage and changes, and ensuring data quality and integrity throughout its lifecycle.

Think of data lineage like a detailed map made by a cartographer tracing a river's journey from the mountains to the ocean. In data management, lineage shows and records how data moves through systems and applications, from where it's taken to how it's changed and loaded.

Why is Data Lineage Important?

Data lineage is essential to data governance, as it provides a comprehensive record of the data's history, provenance, and quality. The primary purpose of data lineage is to ensure transparency and trust in data by providing a clear, auditable trail and sufficient context for every data asset the organization uses. Data lineage can help organizations to:

  • Ensure regulatory compliance, data quality, data privacy, and security by enabling them to trace the origin, ownership, and usage of data.
  • Gain visibility into the changes that may occur due to data migrations, system updates, errors, and more, ensuring data integrity throughout its lifecycle.
  • Identify and fix gaps in data required for business applications by taking a proactive approach to data management.
  • Respond to audit and reporting inquiries for regulatory compliance and increase security posture by enabling them to track and identify potential risks in data flows.

For example, data lineage can help a business track customer data from various source systems, such as CRM, ERP, and website event data, to the data warehouse, where it’s transformed and aggregated using dbt (data build tool) and then to the reporting dashboards, where it’s used for business intelligence and decision making.

Types of Data Lineage

There are two main types of data lineage: technical and business.

Technical data lineage shows data's physical movement and transformation across systems and applications, such as ETL pipelines, databases, and APIs. On the other hand, business data lineage shows data's logical flow and meaning from a business perspective, such as business rules, definitions, and owners. 

Type Technical Data Lineage Business Data Lineage
Description Shows the physical movement and transformation of data across systems and applications Shows the logical flow and meaning of data from a business perspective
Use Case Can help data engineers and developers understand the technical dependencies, impact, and performance of data processes and workflows Can help data analysts and stakeholders to understand the business context, value, and quality of data
Benefits Provides granular and accurate information about the data Provides relevant and understandable information about the data
Challenges Can be complex and difficult to maintain and interpret Can be subjective and inconsistent across different business units and domains

Benefits of Data Lineage for Business Leaders and Data Champions

Understanding and implementing data lineage offers several key advantages:

  1. Informed Decision-Making: Accurate lineage empowers decision-makers with trustworthy data for strategic planning and decision-making.
  2. Risk Mitigation: Identifying and addressing risks associated with data handling helps safeguard against potential breaches and financial losses.
  3. Enhanced Collaboration: Data lineage promotes team collaboration by providing a shared understanding of data flows and bridging gaps between engineering, data, and business units.
  4. Enforcing Data Contracts: Comprehensive data lineage can help organizations enforce data contracts due to the understanding of dependencies and the ability to determine downstream impact due to changes.
  5. Leveraging ML and AI: Accurate data lineage is a foundation for deploying Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) at scale, driving innovation and efficiency.

Implementing Data Lineage

Different methods of implementing data lineages include manual documentation, automated discovery, and a hybrid approach.

  • Manual documentation is creating and updating data lineage documents by hand, using spreadsheets, diagrams, or wikis. While manual documentation can be simple and flexible, it can also be prone to errors, inconsistencies, incompleteness, and time-consuming and costly maintenance.
  • Automated discovery involves using data lineage tools that can automatically scan, extract, and map the data lineage from various data sources, such as databases, files, APIs, and code. Automated data lineage can be accurate and efficient, but it can also be limited by the availability and compatibility of the data sources and the complexity and variability of the data transformations and metadata. 
  • The hybrid approach combines manual documentation and automated discovery to leverage each method's strengths and overcome limitations. It can be optimal, comprehensive but also challenging and inconsistent, requiring coordination and integration of data sources, tools, and processes. 

The choice of the method depends on the data environment, the data requirements, and the data maturity of the organization. Some of the factors that can influence the decision are:

  • The size, scale, and diversity of the data sources and systems
  • The frequency, complexity, and variability of the data changes and transformations
  • The level of data quality, accuracy, and completeness
  • The level of data governance, compliance, and security
  • The level of data literacy, skills, and resources

One of the key challenges of implementing data lineage is to ensure its accuracy and currency in an automated manner, especially in dynamic and complex data environments. Some approaches to automation and maintaining accuracy in data lineage are using data lineage tools that:

  • Support multiple data sources and formats
  • Extract information for different types of languages and handle complex data transformations and metadata.
  • Provide real-time or near-real-time data lineage updates and alerts for data changes and issues.
  • Enable collaboration and feedback among data users and owners and validate and verify data lineage.
  • Leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to enhance data lineage discovery, mapping, and analysis.

Implementing data lineage involves a combination of technology, processes, and culture. Organizations typically approach this by assessing their data stack, selecting the right tools that integrate well with existing systems, defining governance and processes, educating and training teams on the importance of data lineage, and continuously iterating and improving the process to adapt to changes in the data ecosystem.

Use Cases

Data lineage can be applied to various use cases, such as governance, root cause analysis, tracking dependencies, and development.

  • Development: Data lineage can help organizations improve and accelerate data development and deployment, such as modeling, testing, documentation, and release. It can also help organizations enable and support data innovation and experimentation, such as data analysis, visualization, data science, and data engineering.
  • Governance: Data lineage can help organizations establish and enforce data governance policies and standards, such as data quality, privacy, security, and compliance. It can also help organizations monitor and measure data governance performance and outcomes, such as data quality metrics, data issues, and data audits.
  • Tracking dependencies: It helps understand and manage the data dependencies and relationships, such as data sources, data consumers, data owners, and data stewards. Data lineage can also help organizations to optimize and streamline the data processes and workflows, such as data ingestion, data transformation, data integration, and data delivery.
  • Root cause analysis: Organizations use data lineage to identify and troubleshoot the root causes of data issues, such as errors, anomalies, breaches, and losses. Data lineage can also help organizations assess and mitigate the impact and consequences of data issues, such as data corrections, recovery, and notifications.

Some main tools that leverage data lineage are:

  • Change Management and Governance tools control and secure an organization's data changes and updates. These tools use data lineage to manage and document the changes and updates and enforce and audit the data governance policies and standards for data users and owners.
  • Data Catalogs provide a centralized and searchable repository of an organization's data assets and metadata. They use data lineage to enrich and organize the data assets and metadata and facilitate data discovery and access for data users and owners.
  • Data Monitoring and Observability: Organizations use data lineage to monitor data quality, availability, and reliability, providing a comprehensive view of data health and alerting users and owners of issues and anomalies.

Unlocking Data Potential

Data lineage is an ongoing and evolving process that requires constant attention and maintenance, especially in dynamic and complex data environments. It’s also a valuable and strategic asset enabling and supporting an organization's data-driven decision-making and innovation.

code snippet <goes here>
<style>.horizontal-trigger {height: calc(100% - 100vh);}</style>
<script src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/gsap/3.8.0/gsap.min.js"></script>
<script src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/gsap/3.8.0/ScrollTrigger.min.js"></script>
// © Code by T.RICKS, https://www.timothyricks.com/
// Copyright 2021, T.RICKS, All rights reserved.
// You have the license to use this code in your projects but not to redistribute it to others
let horizontalItem = $(".horizontal-item");
let horizontalSection = $(".horizontal-section");
let moveDistance;
function calculateScroll() {
 // Desktop
 let itemsInView = 3;
 let scrollSpeed = 1.2;  if (window.matchMedia("(max-width: 479px)").matches) {
   // Mobile Portrait
   itemsInView = 1;
   scrollSpeed = 1.2;
 } else if (window.matchMedia("(max-width: 767px)").matches) {
   // Mobile Landscape
   itemsInView = 1;
   scrollSpeed = 1.2;
 } else if (window.matchMedia("(max-width: 991px)").matches) {
   // Tablet
   itemsInView = 2;
   scrollSpeed = 1.2;
 let moveAmount = horizontalItem.length - itemsInView;
 let minHeight =
   scrollSpeed * horizontalItem.outerWidth() * horizontalItem.length;
 if (moveAmount <= 0) {
   moveAmount = 0;
   minHeight = 0;
   // horizontalSection.css('height', '100vh');
 } else {
   horizontalSection.css("height", "200vh");
 moveDistance = horizontalItem.outerWidth() * moveAmount;
 horizontalSection.css("min-height", minHeight + "px");
window.onresize = function () {
};let tl = gsap.timeline({
 scrollTrigger: {
   trigger: ".horizontal-trigger",
   // trigger element - viewport
   start: "top top",
   end: "bottom top",
   invalidateOnRefresh: true,
   scrub: 1
tl.to(".horizontal-section .list", {
 x: () => -moveDistance,
 duration: 1
Share this post