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Author's profile photo Kristin Ulrich

Data Anonymization: A hidden talent

This post is part of Transformational Tuesdays: A Series on SAP HANA Business Value from the SAP HANA Solution Management team celebrating 10 years of SAP HANA in 2020.

The article was co-authored by Dr. Stephan Kessler.

Emerging information technology allows organizations to generate, store and analyze data of unprecedented size and complexity. In times of a global pandemic, a lot of data of patients falling ill of COVID-19 is collected by healthcare organizations, research institutions and hospitals. The data can reflect the patient’s pre-conditions, overall fitness and health status, medication, treatment and recovery. This data is personal, highly sensitive and its usage is restricted by privacy laws and regulations. But what if patient data of people falling ill of COVID-19 could be used to better understand relationships between e.g. pre-conditions, treatments and successful recovery? And what if patient data could be made available to practitioners, researchers and healthcare organizations around the globe to foster research, insights and recovery? Let us take you on a short journey to show you how the SAP HANA team has already put such questions into action using the SAP HANA data anonymization feature.


SAP HANA data anonymization transforms the healthcare industry

The customer approached the SAP HANA data anonymization team in order to get insights into most crucial needs for patients’ recovery and their continued well-being. Data such as diagnosis and reaction to treatments are patient data points that had been collected over an extended period of time by the organization. In essence, a lot of patient data was available, but could not be used for any other purpose than for the treatment of one respective patient.

The idea was to render patient data anonymous so that data sets could deliver insights for enhanced and more targeted therapies. However, patient data is highly sensitive data and is subject to special protection under data privacy laws. Applying SAP HANA data anonymization empowered the elimination of identifiers and decoupled sensitive information from individuals, meaning the data was not personal any longer. This permitted practitioners and researchers to get detailed insights into pre-conditions and reaction to different treatment types and allowed to target recovery plans to each individual new patient. This not only ensures a long-term recovery of patients, but also allows clinicians to develop a deeper understanding of the underlying health problems and its respective contributors. Additional details of how SAP HANA data anonymization can be applied in the healthcare industry can be read in the “unlocking the value of healthcare data” blog.

SAP HANA data anonymization is available with SAP HANA and SAP HANA Cloud

Such scenarios are supported with SAP HANA and SAP HANA Cloud. Using SAP HANA data anonymization in cloud scenarios is especially useful when multiple silos are interconnected.

The graphic represents a data consumer that wants to access data from a remote source in the virtual fabric of SAP HANA Cloud. The remote source contains sensitive data, which needs to be anonymized since sensitive information shall not be exposed “in the cloud”. Remote data access in combination with SAP HANA data anonymization makes sure that only anonymized data can be consumed in SAP HANA Cloud. In order to achieve performance improvements, the data consumer wants to have the ability to replicate data in the cloud.

This architecture is applicable to SAP HANA and non-HANA data sources. If the on-prem system is on SAP HANA 2.0 SPS 04 or higher, anonymization can be deployed, and of course, consumed in the cloud.

The business value of the “hidden talent”

SAP HANA data anonymization is embedded in the SAP HANA data privacy option, available in both on-prem and cloud versions.

By applying SAP HANA data anonymization, organizations get access to data that was previously not accessible. Being able to anonymize sensitive and confidential data in real-time, whilst protecting the privacy of individuals, allows organizations to unlock an increased value for data, gain meaningful insights and enables new data-centric scenarios, e.g. Machine Learning on privacy preserving data. The simple to set up, customizable views of SAP HANA data anonymization capability allows for an application to consume anonymized data without special handling. This enables the adaptation to different and industry-specific needs. New business models based on anonymization of data is not just for the healthcare industry, but also applicable for utilities, banking, insurance, automotive industries and public sector. The use cases span from better investment portfolios, solving smart waste problems to better understanding driving behaviors of car owners.

SAP is amongst the first database vendors to include anonymization methods in its core. The applied anonymization methods are based on scientific research (see our recent publication), whereas the team is continually investigating new approaches to incorporate into the SAP HANA data anonymization feature. We invite you to demonstrate digital responsibility to employees, customers and business partners by anonymizing personal and sensitive data with SAP HANA data anonymization. Would you like to know more about SAP HANA data anonymization? Visit our newly designed webpage for more details.

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