What is a data catalog?

ThingsYourDataCatalogNeeds(ButDoesn’tHave)

Updated July 14, 2020

Increasingly, organizations are turning to data catalogs to help them find, understand and trust their data. But what is a data catalog?  A data catalog inventories and organizes all of an organization’s data assets so data consumers can easily discover, understand, trust and access data for any analytical or business purpose. 

Like a library catalog which provides a central location for you to easily look up the description, location and availability of all books in a library, a data catalog provides a comprehensive view of data across your organization with a powerful search function that enables you to easily locate and access your data. In addition, similar to a book description in a library catalog, a data catalog provides business context around your data so you know what data is available across the organization and can effectively use this data to make impactful business decisions. As a result, many organizations are placing data catalogs at the center of their data management strategies and using these data catalogs to drive innovation, growth, and insightful business decisions. 

But not all organizations have moved to implementing a data catalog, and therefore, struggle to effectively and efficiently unlock the value of their data.

“90% of respondents see data as a high priority in decision making, but 47% struggle with a lack of efficiency when using data and 42% deal with poor quality data.”

Leverage your data, BARC

These organizations may wonder why do I need a data catalog? How would I use a data catalog? What are the business benefits of a data catalog? This blog helps answer these questions and illustrates the must-have capabilities of a data catalog, so you can be sure you are getting the right data catalog for your needs.

Why do I need a data catalog? 

Most organizations see data as crucial to their business strategy.  According to a survey conducted by Forrester, 84% of respondents see data as central to generating accurate business decisions. But without a data catalog many organizations struggle to be data driven because their data is siloed across the organization. In fact, business analysts spend 76% of their time finding, understanding and accessing data, instead of using data to generate insights. This time wasted can slow down analyses and ultimately innovation.  To solve this problem, organizations must turn to a data catalog to help them…

  • Gain a unified view of all your data
  • Eliminate the pain of searching through chaotic data swamps to find the right data 
  • Improve trust and confidence in your data
  • Increase productivity and operational efficiency
  • Accelerate time to insight

Being able to trust data enables you to truly unlock the value of your data and generate meaningful and trusted business insights. Gaining a unified view of all your data across your enterprise allows you to easily find the right data for your needs and spend less time searching for data and more time creating analyses. This ultimately speeds up time to insight and allows your organization to adapt to the trends of the market as they occur and spend more time innovating. 

Must-have capabilities of a data catalog 

Not all data catalogs are created equally, so is important to know what capabilities to look for when selecting a data catalog. To make it easy for you, here is a list of the seven must-have capabilities for a data catalog:  

  • Ability to deploy across an enterprise: strategically deployed data catalogs provide more value than tactically deployed data catalogs because they can catalog sources across the enterprise, thus eliminating the creation of metadata silos. 
  • Broad metadata connectivity: with data spread throughout an organization, data catalogs must be able to connect to and ingest metadata from databases, data lakes, data warehouses, enterprise applications, ETL tools, BI solutions and other data sources. 
  • Machine learning-powered automation: an ML-powered data catalog saves time and increases productivity by automating the manual tasks of sorting, classifying and organizing data assets. It also enriches data in the catalog by add business context at scale.   
  • Native, automated data lineage: data lineage helps data users better understand and trust their data by adding additional context that shows where the data comes from, how the data transforms, and how it is used.
  • Collaboration: collaboration capabilities break down organizational silos and enable the sharing of data, knowledge and insights across an organization. 
  • Embedded data governance and data privacy: ensure trust, compliance and confidence in your data by operationalizing and enforcing policies that control user access so you know that only the right people are using your data. 
  • Data shopping experience: a data catalog should allow all data consumers to quickly and easily shop for and check out data sets through an eCommerce-like shopping experience. 

          These seven must-have capabilities distinguish a robust, enterprise-grade, and governed data catalog from a data catalog that is tactical, siloed, and ultimately not successful across an enterprise. 

          Data catalog examples

          With an enterprise, governed data catalog, you can deploy your data catalog across your organization to avoid data silos and empower business users to easily discover and access trusted data. This increases productivity and helps drive business value by enabling the business to make accurate and impactful data-driven decisions. More specifically, your data catalog can be used in a number of different use cases to help your organization become data driven. An organization can use a data catalog to…

          • Enable self-service analytics for the business user 
          • Get more value from your data and analytics investments, such as data lakes and BI tools 
          • Accelerate your move to the cloud 
          • Ensure regulatory compliance 

          At Collibra, we see data catalogs as a crucial part of an organization’s journey to achieving Data Intelligence and an important factor in driving revenue, improving operational efficiency, and generating innovation and growth. 

          Learn more about how a data catalog can help your business and what must-have capabilities to look for in a data catalog.

          Check out our data catalog e-book

          Related resources

          Customer story

          Driving digital transformation at Lockheed Martin

          Video/Webinar

          Collibra Data Catalog

          Analyst report

          BARC study: Leverage your data

          View all resources

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