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Do I Need a Data Catalog?

by Michael Adjei       • June 26, 2020

If you’re serious about a data-driven strategy, you’re going to need a data catalog.

Organizations need a data catalog because it enables them to create a seamless way for employees to access and consume data and business assets in an organized manner.

Given the value this sort of data-driven insight can provide, the reason organizations need a data catalog should become clearer.

It’s no surprise that most organizations’ data is often fragmented and siloed across numerous sources (e.g., legacy systems, data warehouses, flat files stored on individual desktops and laptops, and modern, cloud-based repositories.)

These fragmented data environments make data governance a challenge since business stakeholders, data analysts and other users are unable to discover data or run queries across an entire data set. This also diminishes the value of data as an asset.

Data catalogs combine physical system catalogs, critical data elements, and key performance measures with clearly defined product and sales goals in certain circumstances.

You also can manage the effectiveness of your business and ensure you understand what critical systems are for business continuity and measuring corporate performance.

The data catalog is a searchable asset that enables all data – including even formerly siloed tribal knowledge – to be cataloged and more quickly exposed to users for analysis.

Organizations with particularly deep data stores might need a data catalog with advanced capabilities, such as automated metadata harvesting to speed up the data preparation process.

For example, before users can effectively and meaningfully engage with robust business intelligence (BI) platforms, they must have a way to ensure that the most relevant, important and valuable data set are included in analysis.

The most optimal and streamlined way to achieve this is by using a data catalog, which can provide a first stop for users ahead of working in BI platforms.

As a collective intelligent asset, a data catalog should include capabilities for collecting and continually enriching or curating the metadata associated with each data asset to make them easier to identify, evaluate and use properly.

Data Catalog Benefits

Three Types of Metadata in a Data Catalog

A data catalog uses metadata, data that describes or summarizes data, to create an informative and searchable inventory of all data assets in an organization.

These assets can include but are not limited to structured data, unstructured data (including documents, web pages, email, social media content, mobile data, images, audio, video and reports) and query results, etc. The metadata provides information about the asset that makes it easier to locate, understand and evaluate.

For example, Amazon handles millions of different products, and yet we, as consumers, can find almost anything about everything very quickly.

Beyond Amazon’s advanced search capabilities, the company also provides detailed information about each product, the seller’s information, shipping times, reviews, and a list of companion products. Sales are measured down to a zip code territory level across product categories.

Another classic example is the online or card catalog at a library. Each card or listing contains information about a book or publication (e.g., title, author, subject, publication date, edition, location) that makes the publication easier for a reader to find and to evaluate.

There are many types of metadata, but a data catalog deals primarily with three: technical metadata, operational or “process” metadata, and business metadata.

Technical Metadata

Technical metadata describes how the data is organized, stored, its transformation and lineage. It is structural and describes data objects such as tables, columns, rows, indexes and connections.

This aspect of the metadata guides data experts on how to work with the data (e.g. for analysis and integration purposes).

Operational Metadata

Operational metadata describes systems that process data, the applications in those systems, and the rules in those applications. This is also called “process” metadata that describes the data asset’s creation, when, how and by whom it has been accessed, used, updated or changed.

Operational metadata provides information about the asset’s history and lineage, which can help an analyst decide if the asset is recent enough for the task at hand, if it comes from a reliable source, if it has been updated by trustworthy individuals, and so on.

As illustrated above, a data catalog is essential to business users because it synthesizes all the details about an organization’s data assets across multiple data sources. It organizes them into a simple, easy- to-digest format and then publishes them to data communities for knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

Business Metadata

Business metadata is sometimes referred to as external metadata attributed to the business aspects of a data asset. It defines the functionality of the data captured, definition of the data, definition of the elements, and definition of how the data is used within the business.

This is the area which binds all users together in terms of consistency and usage of catalogued data asset.

Tools should be provided that enable data experts to explore the data catalogs, curate and enrich the metadata with tags, associations, ratings, annotations, and any other information and context that helps users find data faster and use it with confidence.

Why You Need a Data Catalog – Three Business Benefits of Data Catalogs

When data professionals can help themselves to the data they need—without IT intervention and having to rely on finding experts or colleagues for advice, limiting themselves to only the assets they know about, and having to worry about governance and compliance—the entire organization benefits.

  1. Clearly documents data catalog policies, rules and shares information assets

Managing a remote workforce creates new challenges and risks. Do employees have remote access to essential systems? Do they know what the organizations work-from-home policies are? Do employees understand how to handle sensitive data?

Are they equipped to maintain data security and privacy? A data catalog with self-service access serves up the correct policies and procedures.

Catalog critical systems and data elements plus enable the calculation and evaluation of key performance measures. It is also important to understand data linage and be able to analyze the impacts to critical systems and essential business processes if a change occurs.

  1. Makes data accessible and usable, reducing operational costs while increasing time to value

Open your organization’s data door, making it easier to access, search and understand information assets. A data catalog is the core of data analysis for decision-making, so automating its curation and access with the associated business context will enable stakeholders to spend more time analyzing it for meaningful insights they can put into action.

Data asset need to be properly scanned, documented, tagged and annotated with their definitions, ownership, lineage and usage. Automating the cataloging of data assets saves initial development time and streamlines its ongoing maintenance and governance.

Automating the curation of data assets also accelerates the time to value for analytics/insights reporting and significantly reduces operational costs.

  1. Ensures regulatory compliance

Regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA ) and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) require organizations to know where all their customer, prospect and employee data resides to ensure its security and privacy.

A fine for noncompliance or reputational damage are the last things you need to worry about, so using a data catalog centralizes data management and the associated usage policies and guardrails.

See a Data Catalog in Action

The erwin Data Intelligence Suite (erwin DI) provides data catalog and data literacy capabilities with built-in automation so you can accomplish all the above and much more.

Request your own demo of erwin DI.

Data Intelligence for Data Automation

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