Tuesday, March 16, 2021

ActiveNav Automates Data Inventory Updates

Our on-going tour of privacy systems has already included stops at BigID  and Trust-Hub, which both build inventories of customer data. Apparently I’m drawn the topic, since I recently found myself looking at ActiveNav, which turns out to be yet another data inventory system. It’s different enough from the others to be worth a review of its own. So here goes.

Like other inventory systems, ActiveNav builds a map of data stored in company systems. In ActiveNav’s case, this can literally be a geographic map showing the location of data centers, starting from a global view and drilling down to regions, cities, and sites. Users can also select other views, including business units and repository types. The lowest level in each view is a single container, whose contents ActiveNav will automatically explore by reading metadata attributes such as field names and data formats.

The system applies rules and keywords to the metadata to determine the type of data stored in each field, without reading the actual file contents. (A supplementary module that allows content examination is due for release soon.)  It stores its findings in its own repository, again without copying any actual information – so there’s no worry about data breaches from ActiveNav itself.

One disadvantage of ActiveNav’s approach is that relying only on metadata limits the chances of finding sensitive information that is not labeled accurately, something that BigID does especially well. Similarly, ActiveNav doesn’t map relations between data stored in different containers, so it cannot build a company-wide data model. This is a strength of Trust-Hub.

Still, ActiveNav’s ability to explore and classify data repositories without human guidance is a major improvement over manually-built data inventories. Its second big benefit is a “data health” score based on its findings. This is calculated for each container with scores for factors including: risk, including intellectual property and security issues; privacy compliance, based on presence of IDs and other data types; and data quality, including duplicate, obsolete, stale and trivial contents. Scores for each container are combined to create scores for repositories, locations, business units, and other higher levels. This gives users a quick way to find problem areas and track data health over time.

ActiveNav addresses what may be the biggest data inventory pain of all: keeping information up-to-date. The system automates the update process by receiving continuous notifications of metadata changes from systems that are set up to send them. In other cases, ActiveNav can query repositories to look for metadata that has been updated since its last visit. Of course, this requires providing the system with credentials to access that information.

ActivNav was founded in 2008. Until recently, it offered only a conventional on-premise software license with one-time costs starting around $100,000. This is sold this primarily through partners who work on data management projects for heavily regulated industries and governments. The company has recently introduced a SaaS version of its data inventory system that starts at $10,000 per year. It also offers data governance and compliance modules.