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What is a Data Flow Diagram?

Need a data flow diagram to document data movement for an information management strategy and want some practical timesaving suggestions?

A data flow diagram graphically depicts data movement.  Data Flow Diagram

What is data movement?

Data movement is the set of processes and procedures required to move information into, within, and out of an organization.

Why are we interested in data movement?

Information management is all about getting the right information, in the right hands, at the right time, to make the right decision.

Now we have identified all our legacy systems, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning applications and business intelligence strategy, we need to take a look at data movement.

We do this by creating a high-level data flow diagram

This is important because it helps confirm understanding of the key data movement within an organization.

Frequently we find that data it is created in one application but is also needed in several other applications.

Order entry systems may capture customer name and address information and later send it to a second application, which handles billing and accounting so that bills can be sent out and money collected.

The transfer of data from the order entry system to the accounting system is called data movement and we document this flow in a data flow diagram.

What is master data?

Master data is reference data created in one application and sometimes used by other applications. Customer and product information is frequently called reference data but the term can really apply to pretty much any data.

What is master data management?

Think of a human resource management information system. This application may create employee data and maintain information about each position the employee may occupy within the company.

A sales application may need to know which employees are assigned to each sales territory. Frequently, the employee data is created a second time in the sales application and the two applications are seldom synchronized.

Master data management is the set of policies, standards and technology processes created to ensure that reference data (master data) is maintained correctly by the system of record (in this case the human resource management system) and distributed in a timely manner to each other application that needs to reference it.

What is important for an information management strategic plan?

Don’t get lost in the detail—We need to show the source applications and the major data flows between applications. The flows should describe the data in terms of “what is moved” and “when” it moves.

Data flow diagram (data movement) checklist

Be sure to address most of the following items while completing this portion of the information management strategy study. This will help formulate requirements for change.

Are data movement utilities (ETL) required to satisfy data recovery/data restore requirements?
Are data movement utilities (ETL) required to satisfy data replication?
Are data movement best practices documented and followed?
Do they include best practices to prevent data loss?
Is there a data integration center of excellence or are staff trained in data integration?
Do best practices address data integrity concerns?
How is data migration handled between systems? Is it point to point or is a central staging/clearing-house architecture in place?
Do data movement best practices address master data management issues?
Does the data flow diagram include requirements to export data outside of the organization or for data import into the organization?
Are there any specialized data transmission protocol's that must be adopted?
How is data exchange and data interchange currently handled?
How is enterprise application integration currently handled.
Is data feed documentation available?
Is data file documentation available in the metadata repository?
How is data maintenance currently handled?
How is customer data integration handled?
How is other information integration handled?
Are there any issues with data warehouse loading?


Data management is a sub-set of information management that governs organization and control of the structure and design, storage, movement, security and quality of information.

Data flow diagrams graphically depict the movement of data and are needed to help understand and assess the current information management situation. They are supported by additional data movement analysis documentation which is required to fully describe the "as is" data movement/integration situation.

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