What is a data flow?

What is a data flow?

I’m asked this a lot, what do I need to do? Where do I start?  Personal data is like glitter, it gets everywhere and a data flow can make visual sense of what you have and its processing journey around your world.

Sometimes they are called data flow diagrams or DFDs. They can be logical which deals with the process itself and the physical of how it actually moves around.

Some basic questions first


Who is in your world?  Do you have associates?  Suppliers?  Employees?  Clients?  Employees of your clients? How is the information transferred?  Do you anonymise it?

Imagine that you provide counselling services to a medium sized company.  You need to report to the client who is the actual company, for invoicing or a brief overview of progress.  Yet you provide services to the individual employees…where you actively process a lot more personal data.  You and the individual employee might share information eg in a shared folder but you may send a general report to the client with anonymised data.  Suppliers, you will have more than you think, do they process client data? Add that to your data flow.


Now you have identified who you have, next what is the data that you process..is it personal data?  Things that identify you as a natural living person…eg not a company and not dead.  Do you process special category data?  This is information regarding people’s bodies, beliefs, race and sexual preferences.


Now look at how this information is transferred from place to place.  Do you use shared folders?  Email?  Is this password protected?  Encrypted?

In most cases, there are post its, maybe a visio flow chart, maybe sharpies and flip chart. We at TCS use Miro, its brilliant! https://miro.com/

The most important bit

Clue bizarre arrows, crossings out, discussions over what actually happens… the weird conversations onlong the lines of “Why do we do that?” “Why do we duplicate that?” “Hang on we have different info for this status…should we prescribe the blue or red pill here?”

Invaluable conversations.  These help with access rights for shared folders, new processes being developed, reducing the data that you have, anonymising data and reducing your data breach risk.

Often a data flow will help with decisions that are often fraught and uncomfortable.  If you agree on how the data flow actually works then you can work on the solutions with ease and without blame.  You’re working with facts not emotions.

What’s next?

You can now see how data flows around your world, the processes that you use for protecting your data and this should highlight any adjustments that you need to make.  This could be a tighter leavers process to remove access, to use shared folders or to anonymise data per job role.

Need some help?

Its so important to make the right decisions, if you aren’t enjoying the data flow experience or aren’t sure what its telling you then do get in touch.  Our friendly team have years of commerical experience and review processes all the time.  Get in touch and we can talk you through it. https://trustedcompliancesolutions.co.uk/contact