May 20, 2024 By Ernie Ostic 3 min read

Machine learning (ML) has become a critical component of many organizations’ digital transformation strategy. From predicting customer behavior to optimizing business processes, ML algorithms are increasingly being used to make decisions that impact business outcomes.

Have you ever wondered how these algorithms arrive at their conclusions? The answer lies in the data used to train these models and how that data is derived. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of lineage transparency for machine learning data sets and how it can help establish and ensure, trust and reliability in ML conclusions.

Trust in data is a critical factor for the success of any machine learning initiative. Executives evaluating decisions made by ML algorithms need to have faith in the conclusions they produce. After all, these decisions can have a significant impact on business operations, customer satisfaction and revenue. But trust isn’t important only for executives; before executive trust can be established, data scientists and citizen data scientists who create and work with ML models must have faith in the data they’re using. Understanding the meaning, quality and origins of data are the key factors in establishing trust. In this discussion we are focused on data origins and lineage.  

Lineage describes the ability to track the origin, history, movement and transformation of data throughout its lifecycle. In the context of ML, lineage transparency means tracing the source of the data used to train any model understanding how that data is being transformed and identifying any potential biases or errors that may have been introduced along the way. 

The benefits of lineage transparency

There are several benefits to implementing lineage transparency in ML data sets. Here are a few:

  • Improved model performance: By understanding the origin and history of the data used to train ML models, data scientists can identify potential biases or errors that may impact model performance. This can lead to more accurate predictions and better decision-making.
  • Increased trust: Lineage transparency can help establish trust in ML conclusions by providing a clear understanding of how the data was sourced, transformed and used to train models. This can be particularly important in industries where data privacy and security are paramount, such as healthcare and finance. Lineage details are also required for meeting regulatory guidelines.
  • Faster troubleshooting: When issues arise with ML models, lineage transparency can help data scientists quickly identify the source of the problem. This can save time and resources by reducing the need for extensive testing and debugging.
  • Improved collaboration: Lineage transparency facilitates collaboration and cooperation between data scientists and other stakeholders by providing a clear understanding of how data is being utilized. This leads to better communication, improved model performance and increased trust in the overall ML process. 

So how can organizations implement lineage transparency for their ML data sets? Let’s look at several strategies:

  • Take advantage of data catalogs: Data catalogs are centralized repositories that provide a list of available data assets and their associated metadata. This can help data scientists understand the origin, format and structure of the data used to train ML models. Equally important is the fact that catalogs are also designed to identify data stewards—subject matter experts on particular data items—and also enable enterprises to define data in ways that everyone in the business can understand.
  • Employ solid code management strategies: Version control systems like Git can help track changes to data and code over time. This code is often the true source of record for how data has been transformed as it weaves its way into ML training data sets.
  • Make it a required practice to document all data sources: Documenting data sources and providing clear descriptions of how data has been transformed can help establish trust in ML conclusions. This can also make it easier for data scientists to understand how data is being used and identify potential biases or errors. This is critical for source data that is provided ad hoc or is managed by nonstandard or customized systems.
  • Implement data lineage tooling and methodologies: Tools are available that help organizations track the lineage of their data sets from ultimate source to target by parsing code, ETL (extract, transform, load) solutions and more. These tools provide a visual representation of how data has been transformed and used to train models and also facilitate deep inspection of data pipelines.

In conclusion, lineage transparency is a critical component of successful machine learning initiatives. By providing a clear understanding of how data is sourced, transformed and used to train models, organizations can establish trust in their ML results and ensure the performance of their models. Implementing lineage transparency can seem daunting, but there are several strategies and tools available to help organizations achieve this goal. By leveraging code management, data catalogs, data documentation and lineage tools, organizations can create a transparent and trustworthy data environment that supports their ML initiatives. With lineage transparency in place, data scientists can collaborate more effectively, troubleshoot issues more efficiently and improve model performance. 

Ultimately, lineage transparency is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have for organizations that want to realize the full potential of their ML initiatives. If you are looking to take your ML initiatives to the next level, start by implementing data lineage for all your data pipelines. Your data scientists, executives and customers will thank you!

Explore IBM Manta Data Lineage today

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