Demystifying Data Catalog: Importance, Benefits, & Tools

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data catalog tools

Table Of Contents

There’s no doubt that modern data management is a must for organizations today. The sheer amount of data that moves through even smaller organizations is tough to comprehend—there’s transactional data, customer information, emails, various files, and documents, chat messages, and different systems like CRMs, ERPs, and more syncing data with each other every minute.

At the same time, people within and outside of organizations want to access that data, leaving the organization to find ways to make that data accessible while still maintaining security and access privileges to keep sensitive data safe and meet regulatory requirements.

Organizing all this data with a system that makes it easily searchable and accessible while still maintaining a high level of security is a game-changer for business efficiency.

In a previous blog, we discussed the importance of organizations being able to make quick, effective business decisions based on data insights using data discovery.  Organizations can do two things with data discovery:

    1. Augment their internal data by discovering relevant third-party data sources via a data marketplace or through a data exchange partnership.
    2. Understand what internal data assets they have and the usefulness of each asset.

While data discovery handles the process of finding data, a data catalog organizes that data into categories using metadata (we’ll talk more about metadata later).

A common analogy to illustrate how this works is a library. When you go to a library, you’re using their cataloging system to find the book that you’re looking for. Each book has a description that includes its title, author, edition, a short description of what it’s about, and where it should be located within the library. In other words, everything that you’d need to know to decide whether you actually want the book and where you can find it.

If you think of each piece of data within an organization as a book:

  • Data discovery finds that data and lets the organization know that it exists and what it is
  • A data catalog notes that information and stores it in a centralized location so that same piece of data can be easily found later.

Now that it’s clear what a data catalog is and how it works with data discovery, let’s get into more about how data cataloging works—starting with metadata.

What is the Difference Between Metadata and Data Catalog?

Metadata Data catalog
Describes a data asset, including its context, use case, file type, creation date, origin, and more. Organizes and classifies data assets into categories based on their metadata information.

A data catalog uses metadata to create a searchable inventory of all data assets within an organization.

Data catalogs and metadata go hand in hand. Using the analogy of a library, the data catalog would be the shelves with the section names and letters, while the metadata would be the details about the book itself.

There are several types of metadata:

  • Technical metadata describes the organizational structure of the data and how its displayed to users. Aspects like tables, columns, rows, and indexes are all examples of technical metadata.
  • Process metadata refers to how the data was created, why it was created, and who has accessed it, used it, updated or changed it since it was created. It also describes access permissions and other restrictions.
  • Business metadata describes the business value that the data has to the organization, including how it fufils a certain purpose, its regulatory compliance, and more.

Modern data cataloging tools collect metadata from datasets from a variety of sources within an organization, including data lakes, data warehouses, NoSQL databases, cloud storage and much more. The metadata it collects tells a story about the data so that said data can be organized and categorized accordingly for ease of access.

Data catalogs also integrate technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to do more with data, such as semantic interference (new data is created from an existing dataset and added to the database, with the purpose of providing new insights), tagging, and more to allow organizations to do more with their data than ever before.

What Should a Data Catalog Contain?

what should a data catalog contain

There are tons of data catalog tools out there, but knowing which one to choose in a sea of options can be overwhelming. Data catalog tools at their core should be robust enough to handle large amounts of data flow and be scalable to accommodate your business as it grows and as your needs change while at the same time being as intuitive and user-friendly as possible. With that being said, there are some essential features that the most effective data catalog solutions offer, and you should watch out for when choosing a solution for your organization.

Data catalog tools worth their salt should offer:

  • Robust data searching capabilities. Users should be able to find data quickly and effectively using keywords, business terms, technical information, tags, and more. Natural language search capabilities are useful for less technically-inclined users to find the information they’re looking for. Being able to browse metadata based on a technical hierarchy of data assets is also invaluable.
  • The ability to find metadata. A data catalog tool should be able to find metadata from connected sources and organize it accordingly.
  • Metadata curation. Data subject matter experts and stakeholders should be able to contribute to the data catalog by providing their business knowledge, such as annotations, classifications, tags, associations, and more.
  • Customization. To allow a data catalog tool to work as effectively as possible with your business, the ability to customize it is important. From the system’s layout to the UX, adjusting the platform to suit your organization’s needs ensures that users can access data as easily as possible.
  • A business glossary. The different terms your business uses are not always universal, so your data catalog tool should have access to a business glossary that allows it to give context to data containing terms specific to your business.
  • Data intelligence automation. Technologies like AI and ML are essential for modern data cataloging, as these technologies augment the data catalog by allowing it to provide more business intelligence, like new insights from existing data.
  • Full tracking and history. Understanding where data came from and how the data catalog determined its final destination is important for transparency and for gaining a better understanding of how your data catalog tool categorizes data assets. Having a full data lineage is also important for meeting regulatory requirements so the origin and destination of data is always understood.
  • Automation. If a manual process can be automated, it’s worth doing. Not only does automation prevent human errors, it also ensures consistency and saves time. Activities that data catalog tools can offer include data discovery and change detection, data quality assessments, and data policy enforcement.
  • Data quality monitoring. Data catalog tools should be able to automatically detect anomalies in data assets to ensure their quality and safety remains intact. Typically, data catalogs will use AI to complete this task and fix errors to maintain the integrity of all data assets.

Benefits of Data Cataloging Software

Process With and Without Data Catalog

A diagram from Alation Solutions describing the process of accessing data with and without a data catalog.

1. Get a unified view of all your data

When your data is organized like a library, it’s easy to get a bird’s eye view of all of your data and how its connected. This not only leads to a greater understanding of the organization itself but also allows stakeholders to keep tabs to identify business opportunities easier. Data cataloging alongside data discovery also contributes to the democratization of data, meaning that regardless of a person’s technical skill, they can view and glean insights from data sources that can be applied to business strategies.

2. Improves data context

Many data catalogs offer data lineage, which identifies the origin of a data asset and shows how it was created, who accessed it, if it’s been changed or altered, and more. This helps improve the context surrounding the data, so a user can understand the entire story surrounding it.

3. Improves insight accuracy

Because data catalog tools provide context to data assets, data that’s used for developing organizational insights is often more accurate in terms of relevance and scope. In addition, speed to insight is improved, as the searchability of a data catalog platform make finding these relevant insights easier.

4. Lessens the time taken to find and access data

Without a data catalog, teams needing access to data to develop reports or glean insights have to determine where relevant data lives within the organization, try to access it, and enlist the help of IT to download it and/or transform it into usable information. With data catalog software, the speed-to-insight time is greatly increased, because users don’t have to attempt to access multiple systems or involve IT to gain the data they need.

Instead, the data catalog software not only organizes data assets so they are easy to find, but also handles access security and privileges to ensure that only the right information ends up in the right hands.

5. Allows users to assess data quality and usage

By using a metadata, a data catalog tool allows users to quickly assess data quality and use case scenarios to determine if they found the right dataset for their needs. This prevents hours of exploratory time that it would usually take for a user to download the data set, sift through it, and determine if it has anything worth their time. Instead, the metadata can immediately tell them the data set’s usefulness.

6. Helps simplify data governance and compliance

Ever-changing rules regarding regulatory compliance and data governance can be difficult to keep up with manually. You can’t ensure compliance without a clear understanding of your organization’s data, including where it lives and who has access to it. With the help of data catalog tools, however, data governance and compliance can be simplified as automations do the heavy lifting.

Top Data Catalog Tools

Data Catalog Tool Name Key Features
Ataccama Data Catalog
  • Continuous quality improvement and data cleansing through automation (scheduled system scans, self-improving AI)
  • Suggestions and filtering built into search
  • Augmented data lineage
Cogniti Premium
  • Allows you to reuse code you’ve already created within the platform in other areas via “reusable blocks”
  • Flexible sharing permissions and security controls can be changed from one centralized source
  • Visiblity downstream lets users choose the correct data version for their needs
Informatica
  • Works with any platform, multi-cloud or multi-hybrid environment
  • Offers a low-code or no-code experience
  • Uses robust AI to automate thousands of manual tasks and perform metadata management
Collibra
  • Includes an AI-driven insights engine that helps with understanding how data is used, its origins, and more
  • Offers out-of-the-box integration with major databases
  • Offers encryption at rest, during data transmission, and role-based access levels
Apache Atlas
  • Includes security and data masking
  • Centralized data governance, including the ability to create new metadata types
  • Allows users to view data lineage
Talend
  • Built-in data discovery, mapping, visualization, and data capture and transfer
  • Robust access controls and permissions
  • Robust metadata management

How Revelate Works with Data Catalog Tools

revelate working with data catalog tools

Revelate is a data fulfillment platform. It enables organizations to gather data from various sources, internally and externally, and prepare and refine them into data products. These data products can then be uploaded to a public, private, or hybrid web store that allows the relevant users to access the data the way the organization controls.

Data catalog tools help businesses organize their internal data, which means that data that lives within their systems is categorized according to their business needs, complete with tags, keywords, and more to make finding and accessing relevant data assets easier.

With Revelate, data is taken from any source and set up to be distributed to anyone. This means that Revelate can access data from an organization’s internal systems, including their cloud-based systems, on-premises systems, and any other relevant source, and prepare it to be distributed to anyone, including those inside and outside of the organization.

Most data cataloging systems on their own focus more on internal data organization (which makes sense) and don’t include a data web store feature. Revelate fills in that gap and enables data to be prepared to be consumed by different types of users, including users that may not understand an organization’s specific metadata classification structure.

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Here is a use-case scenario:

Suppose a giant social media organization has been approached by marketers in various industries wanting access to the organization’s user data. The social media organization has an extensive data cataloging system that is organized according to its own metadata, including internal business terminology, user permissions, data governance, and access privileges.

To share this data with outside sources, it’s imperative that the social media organization prepare their data properly so that those who want it can understand what they’re getting and that privacy, regulatory requirements, and access privileges for sensitive user information are ensured. Of course, being such a large organization, there is an astronomical amount of data to go through and change, and they wouldn’t want to change how the data is handled internally through their data catalog solution.

The social media organization could use a platform like Revelate to gather the relevant data from the organization’s data catalog tool, refine the information to have more standardized descriptions and metadata so it can be easily recognized by external users, and ensure that security protections are maintained before placing it on a web store. In other words, the organization can share its data effectively while still maintaining full control.

FAQ

How much does data catalog software cost?

According to TrustRadius, data catalog software can start as low as $1 per month per user and go up to $4,000 or more per month.

Like other software, the cost of data catalog tools depends largely on the features they provide. Many data catalog companies price their tools per user, similar to SaaS businesses. Many providers don’t put their pricing directly on their website, which is standard because the needs of individual businesses can vary so widely. This way, data catalog companies can provide customized solutions for different businesses, including pricing.

What is a data catalog versus data discovery?

    • A data catalog categorizes, stores, and gives context to a business’s data assets from various sources.
    • Data discovery allows a business to find internal and external data automatically

How do I find the best data catalog tool?

Like all software, you’ll need to determine the organizational goals you want to achieve with the help of data catalog software. For instance, perhaps you want to increase access to data for team members beyond your data scientists and IT professionals. Or you want to eliminate data silos within your organization that prevents teams from understanding the entire story when creating reports because they aren’t aware of all the data available. Now that you have those goals in mind, you’ll want to prioritize certain features that a data catalog tool may have.

For example, some data catalog tools use AI and ML to glean insights from existing data, helping you discover new business opportunities. If this is something that your teams are struggling with, then looking for a data catalog tool that prioritizes this feature is a good idea. If your business is rather unique and your use case for a data catalog tool is unusual, you will want to look for a solution that is highly customizable, so you can tailor the software to work with your specific use case.

Does snowflake include a data catalog?

Yes and no. Snowflake as a platform includes data cataloging within its marketplace, but the organization uploading the data still needs to use an external data catalog tool to organize its data into a catalog in advance. Once the data catalog is on the marketplace though, Snowflake users can find it via a search function.

What are open-source data catalog tools?

As with all open-source software, the organization that’s downloading the open-source data catalog tool has full access to the software’s source code without restrictions and licensing limitations. This means an organization can customize the software to their liking, even changing fundamental functionalities. It’s like if the foundation of a house was already built, and you could use that foundation to build a completely customized house to your liking.

Open source data catalogs are great, but only if organizations have robust in-house development and IT teams to maintain it over time. Most open-source software has online forums and communities that are helpful, but without advanced development and technical knowledge, it would be extremely difficult for an organization to maintain its open-source data catalog tool on its own.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, your data is a product. Whether your internal employees are accessing it, or external stakeholders or customers, it should be organized in a way that makes it easy for them to find what they are looking for. By cataloging your data, you can also ensure that it remains as secure as possible, following your organization’s access policies and security and regulatory requirements while still ensuring ease of access.

Data catalog tools are just another part of the conversation of data democratization. The benefits are endless when we can share our data while retaining full control over it. To facilitate easy data sharing and purchasing, you’ll need a platform that can do it all—extraction, preparation, refinement, and distribution. That platform is Revelate.

Interested in learning more? Contact us today.

Unlock Your Data's Potential with Revelate

Revelate provides a suite of capabilities for data sharing and data commercialization for our customers to fully realize the value of their data. Harness the power of your data today!

Get Started