Forrester often recommends companies inventory their data assets by looking at the systems of record and the data generated by those systems such as data coming out of financial systems, asset-management systems, ERP, CRM, service records, sales transactions, social media, inventory tracking, and supply chain management.

Capgemini, like some other consulting organizations, has automated tools that can inventory reporting and analytics assets and the surrounding ecosystem. Using those tools, it can determine how many people have access to a system and how often they’re using it, which provides clues for necessary improvements.

“The problem with [automated discovery] is that all outcomes are treated as if they have the same level of priority, so it’s important to have not just a mechanical understanding of what exists but the gaps that need to be filled to move the organization to a higher level of maturity,” said Capgemini’s Belliappa.

Talking to people is also important, since members of a department will tend to know which tools it uses, for what purposes, and the shortcomings of the systems. However, the entire scope of investments may not be clear because some things may have been lost, forgotten or overlooked.

“In BI management, there’s the ability to build a data dictionary, do MDM and so forth,” said Andrew Brust, senior director at Big Data platform provider Datameer. “In the Big Data world, it’s a little harder to be methodical and straightforward. There’s a lot of detective work, because it’s not simple discovery. It ends up being kind of an exercise of enumerating and inventorying and then drilling down into those things.”

Many organizations have a pretty good understanding of the management reports that are being generated, but there’s also still a lot of data trapped in spreadsheets.

“If the organization understands what information is critical and needed by which constituencies, then it becomes a matter of understanding whether we have it and getting it to the right place, so there is management of the data that needs to take place so there’s a view of that,” said Dan DiFilippo, global and U.S. data and analytics leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Otherwise, you end up with a situation where you don’t realize you had it and it would have been great if we knew that.”

Some IT groups have documentation describing the complete architecture and technology landscape, which can aid the understanding of what technologies are in place, and which ones contain transactional data, master data, and other data. Sometimes the entire scope of external data sources may not be apparent, since it’s easy for departments to get access to such data without IT’s help or involvement.

“Understanding the technology landscape and architecture is one way of determining what data you have. The other is ascertaining what data, dashboards, reports and KPIs are being used, which can also help identify what data exists and what data is being used,” said KPMG’s Gusher.