Data Catalog: What It Is and Why You Need One

Data Catalog: What It Is and Why You Need One

According to a report by IDC, the global datasphere is predicted to grow from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 Zettabytes in 2025. What this means is that companies now have access to enormous data spanning multiple departments and sources. 

However, companies still face two main challenges according to a data management survey by Gartner: Finding data that delivers value and supporting data governance and security.

And here is where a data catalog comes in.

What Exactly is a Data Catalog and Why Does it Matter?

A data catalog is an organized inventory of data assets that helps data citizens quickly find the most appropriate data for business purposes. It utilizes metadata to create an informed record of all data in an organization. 

 In most cases, the data catalog comes with tools that enable the data citizens to:

  • Search the data catalog
  • Govern data usage in relation to regulations and policies 
  • Automate discovery of relevant and related data they didn't necessary search

If we are to understand the entire concept of data catalog and its importance, we need to first understand metadata. Metadata is data of data. Or, in simple terms, a set of data that gives information about other data. 

 Metadata helps data users quickly find information about data assets. In a data catalog, metadata comes in three forms. 

  • Business metadata.  Describes the business value a data set has to an organization. It can also describe the purpose(s) of that particular data and any related regulatory compliances. 
  • Technical metadata. Describes the form in which data is presented. It can be in tabular form, charts, columns, or indexes. Technical metadata informs data users if the data is in the suitable format to work with or if they need to change it.
  • Process metadata. This type specifies circumstances surrounding data creation and shows who has accessed, changed, updated, or used the data. 

The data catalog software you choose should support all the metadata capabilities mentioned above.

What Challenge Does a Data Catalog Solve?

One of the primary challenges a data catalog solves is the issue of data silos. A data catalog solves this challenge by providing the lineage and context of data into one unified and single portal that is easily accessible.

What this means is that an organization is better able to govern data usage, uphold data integrity and promote stakeholders' collaboration.

With a data catalog in place, organizations can easily monitor their data to ensure it comes from a reputable source, is frequently updated to guarantee accuracy, and is categorized into the contextual subset based on its usage and value to an organization.

data silo

Why Do Companies Need a Data Catalog?

In other words, what's the importance of a data catalog to an organization and its end users?

1. Helps Companies Utilize, Manage and Enrich their Information

Companies need a data catalog as it helps them manage and enrich the value of the information at their disposal. With a catalog, businesses can understand the type of data they have access to, the gaps that need filling, and what value they have from that information. Insight into these aspects helps businesses steer their data strategy. 

2. Find and Classify Data at Scale

By having a data catalog, data citizens can find data easily and classify it per use case. This increases efficiency, promotes data accuracy, and improves decision-making. 

3. Drive Digital Transformation Such as Machine Learning(ML) and Artificial Intelligence(AI)

According to Gartner, by 2022, over 60% of traditional IT-led data catalog projects that do not use ML to assist in data inventorying will not be delivered on time. This shows how critical technologies such as ML and AI will be in data management for businesses.

If a business has a data catalog, it can better adopt the use of these transformative technologies. That's because the data is easily accessible, in plenty, and within context to allow manipulation and optimization.

4. Enhance Operations Across all Departments in an Organization

Data has long been the secret weapon of successful businesses. Having a data inventory makes it easier to optimize business operations and gain a competitive edge. With a data catalog, data is not siloed into an unhelpful department-only- access type of hierarchy. Instead,  any department can gain access to data that helps them carry out operations and make data-backed decisions. 

Improve Data visibility and Better Enforcement of  Data Policies

With the rise of GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), companies need to take an extra step in ensuring compliance and enforcement of these regulations. A data catalog eases this work by availing information about policies concerning each data set and monitoring compliance of how the data is used.

Why is a Data Catalog Important in Data Governance?

Why is a Data Catalog Important in Data Governance?

In the most basic of explanations, a data catalog brings efficiency into data governance. With a data catalog, an organization gets to understand which data needs to be governed and up to which extent. 

Ultimately a data catalog becomes a standard, strategic and trustworthy tool to enable data governance. Here's how a data catalog contributes to data governance:

  1. Automation promotes better but controlled collaboration among all stakeholders, making it easier to trace supply, changes, and data usage.
  2. The utilization of machine learning in data catalogs improves data consumption, management, and, most importantly, governance.

Data Catalog Uses Within a Company

A data catalog will usually have a snowball benefit effect for all relevant people within an organization. For now, let's focus on how a data catalog changes the game for chief data officers, data stewards, and data stewards.

1. Chief Data Officers

Chief data officers are in charge of formulating the enterprise data strategy for a business. Their goal is to master data and facilitate access. However, these two goals are also their greatest challenge. When a data catalog enters the picture, chief data officers can now:

  • Define data value and reliability through all stages of creation, access, and changes.
  • Enable data literacy faster within an organization.
  • Enhance the context of data sets for data explorers and users.
  • Promote compliance regulations related to data usage and access and creation.

2. Data Stewards

Data stewards usually have technical and operational knowledge about data, and hence, are the primary contact for most data inquiries. Their main challenge is the amount of data inquiries they have to cater to and documentation of compliance and rules surrounding the use of data. With a data catalog, data stewards can better:

  • Centralize data knowledge (context and regulations)  in a single platform.
  • Enrich and speed up data documentation.
  • Enhance communication with data explorers.
  • Qualify the value of data and ensure it's maintained.

3. Data Scientists & Data Analysts

These are the people responsible for developing analytical and even predictive models that make data understandable for the average person in an organization. They build and also exploit data warehouses, analytical models as well as ML and AI to accomplish this goal. 

The main challenge faced by data scientists and data analysts is communication with non-technical stakeholders and the time it takes for data preparation. By introducing a data catalog, businesses enable them to:

  • Easily and quickly find data to save time when building models.
  • Access the history of data lineage to determine relevance, accuracy, and privacy over time.
  • Understand the business and professional context of data to improve communication with non-technical stakeholders.
  • Easily collaborate with other data citizens for better management, governance, and data inventorying.

How is a Data Catalog Used in Data Lineage?

Data lineage represents the path that data takes from the source to its current location and shows any modifications made along the journey. Companies must understand data lineage since doing so ensures that their data is from reputable sources and acquired in regulations-abiding methods.

A data catalog supports this need by helping in:

  • Evaluating the trustworthiness of data based on its sources.
  • Pinpointing the sources of errors.
  • Ensuring data flows are not subject to tampering.
  • Providing a path for auditing data regulations and policies.

However, a data catalog will not be enough to promote relevancy, reliance, and data accuracy. Companies still require the assistance of data quality assurance and validation software to promote the three further. 

Data quality software such as BiG EVAL helps companies uphold data quality through ongoing quality checks on enterprise data. BiG EVAL does this by evaluating data sources, applying comprehensive testing algorithms, checking security implementation, and sending alerts to the relevant people if the data quality is subpar.

BiG EVAl can improve your business's data for the better.

BiG EVAL is also able to utilize a data catalog within its quality assurance algorithms. Doing so, it is capable of discovering the whole data landscape and applying the relevant validation checks fully automated wherever it makes sense.

Big Eval can help you sustain quality for all your enterprise data through validation and test automation.
Get a personal demo today  to see how BiG EVAL can improve your business's data for the better.