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What is a Data Inventory?



A data inventory, sometimes called a data map, is the process of identifying your company's valuable data assets. The inventory records basic information such as its name, description, where it lives, and who can access it. Data and information are often used interchangeably, but they are different.

To put a fine point to these two words, data are raw numbers, words, and characters. By themselves, they have little meaning. When organized into a collection, they become information.

For example, 315 is a series of numbers. Robinson is a string of characters. They don't mean much without some context. When combined and identified as an address, this data becomes useful information.


Why is a Data Inventory Important?



Data creates the information necessary for your company's everyday activites, its growth, and success. It is used by everyone in your company for such things as --

  • making informed decisions
  • monitoring company health and security
  • identifying opportunities for new products and services
  • strategic planning
  • understanding your customers' needs


  • Think of your company's data like your bank accounts. You continually make decisions based on the money in those accounts. Imagine moving money in and out of your accounts without ever knowing the actual amounts. Each piece of data represents a specific value in your company's data account.



    The ease of acquiring software and applications today increases the amount of data collected. Adding shadow IT to the equation means a more scattered and potentially at-risk collection of data.


    Every Company Has Data to Protect



    Small companies often say they don't have any data that an unathorized outside person would want. Not so fast. The data in your control extends to your clients' and customers' data they have entrusted to you.

    What if a client's data were stolen and given to one of their competitors? The loss of trust and your company's reputation will be swift and cannot be regained.



    Every company has some data that is valuable. An inventory will help identify essential areas such as ---

  • what data is important
  • potential risks
  • how to protect the data
  • how to manage user access
  • where data overlaps exist
  • where data gaps exist
  • where shadow IT exists



  • How to Do a Data Inventory



    Like a software inventory, the thought of a data inventory can feel tedious and labor-intensive. What is the first step to create a data inventory? The software inventory. (Now it really sounds overwhelming, doesn't it?)

    Here are some points to help you plan your data inventory.

  • Managing your data assets is an ongoing process. It is not a one-time project.
  • This process requires planning. To be of value to your company, it needs the time and resource commitments necessary to do a thorough analysis.
  • A data inventory starts with company leadership explaining the purpose and the expected outcome.
  • Everyone in the company should be involved in this process. Understanding why data exists and how it's used are an important part of the inventory.
  • All data is not equally important. Identify the essential items and focus on them.
  • Every company is different so you decide what data is most important for your business.
  • Categorizing your data will help organize it for review later.
  • Remember that customer and client data is as important as internal company data.


  • The workbook in the Keep Learning section is a free tool to help you. Software and data inventories benefit from the help of your internal IT team. If you don't have an internal team or feel an objective view is needed, Quest Technology Group is ready to work with you.


    Keep Learning



    Where Does Your Valuable Data Live? (PDF)
    Data Inventory Workbook (xlsx)

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