There’s been a lot of talk over recent months and years about data protection, particularly with the POPI Act coming into effect in South Africa last month, and GDPR impacting businesses since 2018. But keeping the personal data that you store under lock and key, protected against outside threats, is only part of the equation. It’s essential to maintain data integrity as well.
What is Data Integrity?
Data integrity refers to the process of gathering, maintaining, storing, or deleting data without compromising on data consistency, reliability, and security throughout the entire data lifecycle. Data integrity helps businesses stay compliant with applicable regulations and guidelines like South Africa’s POPI Act and the EU’s GDPR. Over the past decade, it has attracted a great deal of attention.
Data is all around us, with more being generated every second. Every business deals with data in a variety of different ways. Your client data is needed by your accounts team to make sure that customers are invoiced correctly. Your sales team needs data to make sure that they’re selling (and upselling) the right products to the right people. Your marketing team need data about potential clients, ensuring that they don’t approach the same people over and over again.
Every team uses data in different ways, but that doesn’t mean that the same data needs to be stored multiple times.
Say, for example, a client named Joe Smith made their way from marketing, to Sales, to accounts. While the data about Joe may be used in different ways by different teams, it’s the same data that they should be using, rather than replicating the clients’ information, potentially leading to confusion down the line when another Joe Smith (since the name and surname are hardly unique) approaches the company, and heightening the risk of incorrect information being used.
This is what data integrity is all about – ensuring that the data your business stores is managed and maintained, regularly updated and correctly stored so that all of the teams that need it can gain quick and easy access to it.
How Does Data Integrity Impact Data Protection?
Both data integrity and data protection have important roles to play for businesses, and they’re not entirely separate. Ensuring that your information is accurate and correctly stored may form part of data integrity, but it also aids in keeping your data protected, particularly from human error.
After all, if there are 3 records for Joe Smith – one from marketing, one from sales and one from accounting – it is a lot easier for information to become outdated, for mistakes to be made, for one of the records to be deleted in error, and even for one of them to be compromised.
What Types of Data Integrity Are There?
Knowing that you need to maintain your business’ data integrity and putting measures in place to do so are two different matters. As you can imagine, given the example above, keeping your data secure and accurate, while at the same time ensuring that it is accessible by multiple parties, is a complicated process, especially when there are several types of data integrity that you need to consider.
1. Physical Integrity
Where and how your data is stored is essential to maintaining its integrity. If, for example, all of your data is stored on-site in South Africa, every time load shedding hits, it is placed at risk, as it could easily become corrupted. Thankfully this threat to physical integrity can be reduced by ensuring that your business has generators or invertor systems in place so that integral systems never go down, even in the case of a power outage.
But this isn’t the only threat out there – data is prone to human error, as well as at threat from cyberattacks. Keeping your data backed up and stored in the cloud, with a disaster recovery plan in place should something go wrong, will see you vastly reducing the risk to your data’s physical integrity.
2. Logical Integrity
Where physical integrity is all about the way that data is stored, logical integrity is all about the way that it’s accessed, used, and maintained. There are a number of different considerations to keep in mind when thinking about your data’s logical integrity:
- Entity Integrity: You need to make sure that your data is uniquely identifiable. In the example of Joe Smith listed above, you would want to give the client a unique identifier such as a Client ID or reference.
This will ensure that if another Joe Smith approaches your company, you’ll be able to keep the information for the two clients separate and easily identifiable. It will also prevent you from having three sets of information listed for the same client.
- Referential Integrity: While there are certain pieces of information that need to be unique, such as client identifiers, there are also pieces of information that you would expect to be shared by a number of different clients.
For example, if you have a list of products or services that you offer, you would want to make sure that your data reflects items in this list correctly. You wouldn’t want your Sales team to refer to a product one way, and your Accounts team to bill it in another way, for example.
- Domain Integrity:
When dealing with numbers and figures, dates and times, it’s important that data is stored in the same way, no matter who is putting it in. This is where domain integrity comes in – it ensures that information is stored in the correct way for your business. This makes it far easier to maintain accurate data, and to analyse it
For example, as a South African business, you may want your currency fields to appear as Rands and cents. If someone enters a Rand amount (without cents), domain integrity will ensure that the data is corrected to include “.00” cents. If someone tries to write out the amount, or includes a letter rather than a number in error (typing R before the amount, for example), domain integrity will stop the data from being stored until it’s entered correctly.
- User-Defined Integrity:
Because no two businesses are the same, it’s likely that there are going to be rules about the way that you store data that the standard integrity checks don’t meet.
You may want your unique IDs to follow a specific pattern, for example, including specific letters before the identifying number. You might want to set a minimum fee, or a limit on how many items a client can purchase from you.
These kinds of individualised rules that you set for your data are known as user-defined integrity, and are essential for storing data in a way that suits your business needs.
Where Should You Start?
With so many different types of data integrity to consider, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Thankfully, data management is an endeavour that doesn’t have to be undertaken alone. An IT company like Solid Systems can not only help you store your data securely, but can work with you in putting together data integrity rules and checks that will see you maintaining reliable and accurate information.
And the services that we offer go beyond just maintenance and security as well. We can see you analysing your information and putting your data to use in ways that enhance your business and can see your company meeting your goals. This is just one way that we help businesses to step confidently into the future.