What is Data Catalog? Definition, Benefits, and Use Cases

Last Modified: December 29th, 2022

What is Data Catalog | Hevo Data

A data catalog enables better data discovery and unified metadata management.

Organizations embarking on their cloud-centric analytics journeys have a variety of data sources and services. According to a study sponsored by Alteryx, data professionals lose 30% of their time – 14 hours a week on average — because they can’t discover, preserve, or prepare data. The additional 20% of their time, or 10 hours per week, is wasted on creating information assets that already exist. In other words, they waste a total of 50% of their time each week on futile endeavors or repeated efforts.

There is no escaping the fact that cloud data storage solutions are swamped with large volumes of data. Additionally, data analysts have found it difficult to find and interpret data due to the lack of a well-defined terminology. Thus, what is data catalog and how do I use it, are some of the common questions they need to know answers to. In addition, the lack of trustworthiness amongst data users has made ad-hoc data prep considerably tedious. 

Consider an instance where you decide to act upon the data you have gathered in your central repository to make decisions over targeted marketing. When you try to access that data you find yourself restricted and have to wait for the IT department to grant access. After getting the authorization you have to struggle to find the relevant data, and later you have to spend hours again to make sense of the data since there isn’t any defined business glossary to make data interpretation easy.

While you waste your precious manhours preparing data to act upon, your competitor has already initiated the process of making data-driven decisions. This puts you at a significant disadvantage in terms of gaining an edge over your competitors. This kind of scenario requires the need for a data catalog for discovering, understanding, and analyzing data in a way that is both fast and high quality.

Table of Contents

What is Data Catalog?

What is Data Catalog | Hevo Data
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A well-organized inventory of your data assets from all of your data sources is called a data catalog. Data cataloging helps companies in improving data discovery, comprehension, and consumption. All of your data, related metadata, and discovery tools are arranged, indexed, and easy to find for both business needs and data users when you have an enterprise data catalog.

Now, let’s try to understand ‘what is data catalog’ with an analogy.

A library is a typical metaphor for data catalogs. It serves as the perfect analogy since it is stocked with information assets (like books) and requires a way to manage them. In this example, books serve as the information asset, while details about the books, such as their title, author, ISBN, and genre, serve as their metadata. 

A data catalog is precisely what it sounds like—a catalog that is updated with information about the books, their location, and other things. It enables users to locate the list of available books, organize it according to their preferences, and easily choose the ones they need.

A good data catalog meets the following criteria:

  • It Empowers Metadata
    You need data catalogs that can broadly discover, catalog, enhance, and utilize all types of metadata, enabling manual or automated usage of the same throughout your data stack.
  • It Assembles and Combines Metadata in One Repository
    Modern data catalogs serve as the uniform access layer for all data sources and repositories and are driven by visual querying capabilities to enable equitable access to both technical and business users.
  • It Facilitates Integrated Teamwork
    All data consumers have varied tool preferences, skill sets, and procedures. Modern data catalogs are inclusively built to serve them all in their native environments because they realize the power of this variety.

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Need for Data Cataloging for Businesses

Data silos are one of the main problems that a data catalog addresses. This problem is resolved by a data catalog, which compiles the history and context of data into a single, unified site that is simple to use.

As a result, your company is better equipped to control data consumption, maintain data quality, and encourage stakeholder involvement.

According to IDC Report (2019), every week, ineffective tasks cost data workers 44 percent of their time. With this, 47 percent of preparatory labor and 51 percent of searching are both wasted.

Challenges of Using a Data Catalog | Hevo Data
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This diagram depicts how a data catalog makes life easier and saves time for your data users. In effect, with the presence of data catalogs, 80% of your data teams’ time is spent on high-value tasks like analyzing data and sharing insights.

Using a data catalog, businesses can simply keep an eye on their data and make sure it originates from reliable sources. They can regularly update it to maintain correctness and can classify it into the appropriate subset depending on how it will be used and what value it will bring to the company. By doing so, a data catalog can help save countless man-hours and at the same time boost the productivity and morale of the data professionals. 

These are multiple ways an enterprise data catalog can help your organization:

  • Assist Your Businesses in Managing, Using, & Enhancing Your Information
    Businesses require a data catalog because it aids in managing and enhancing the value of the information they have available.

    Businesses can identify the types of data they have access to, the gaps that need to be filled, and the value of that information by cataloging. Businesses may direct their data strategy by gaining insight into these factors.
  • Locate and Sort Data at Scale
    Your data citizens can readily locate data and categorize it according to to use cases by using a data catalog. This boosts productivity, encourages data accuracy, and enhances decision-making.
  • Make Most of Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning 
    According to Gartner, by 2022, more than 60% of conventional IT-led data catalog projects won’t be completed on schedule if machine learning isn’t used to help with data inventorying. This demonstrates how important technologies like ML and AI will be for business data management.

    Your company can easily accept the usage of these transformational technologies if it has a data catalog. This is because the data is plentiful, freely available, and contextualized to permit modification and optimization.
  • Improve Operations in All Departments of an Organization 
    Data has typically been the go-to resource for prosperous companies, improving operations across all departments of an organization. It is simpler to improve corporate operations and acquire a competitive advantage when there is a data inventory. 

    A data catalog prevents data from being isolated into a counterproductive hierarchy with access restricted to certain departments. Instead, each department can get access to information they need, to help them in daily operations and data-based decisions.

Who Makes Use of a Data Catalog?

  • Data Stewards make use of higher-level perspectives from data catalogs to prepare for good data management and data quality assurance since they can see how their data fits into the corporation as a whole.
  • Data/Business Analysts can gain a holistic understanding of the descriptive metadata giving context to data assets for the aim of deriving business value.
  • Data Scientists & Engineers will be able to find, comprehend, and use current data without producing duplicates.
  • Data-Specializing Executive Leadership can gain a better understanding of their organization’s data ecosystem and make more informed strategic decisions.
  • Customers can make use of a business data catalog for a variety of data requests and to discover additional business-related information.

Benefits of Data Cataloging

Having understood what is data catalog, we can now dive deeper into the benefits of the data catalog. 

Data catalog offers a variety of benefits along with robust metadata and enhanced dataset searching. These include:

  • Greater Data Comprehension by Improved Context: With an enterprise data catalog, data analysts may access thorough descriptions of data, including comments from other data citizens, and better understand how data is relevant to the business.
  • Improved Operational Effectiveness: Data cataloging establishes an ideal division of labor between users and IT, enabling data citizens to access and analyze data more quickly while allowing IT employees to devote more time to activities that are of the utmost importance.
  • Reduced Risk: Enterprise data catalog reduces business risk by ensuring that data is only used for the intended uses and that it complies with company policies and data privacy laws. Additionally, your data/business analysts can swiftly scan annotations and metadata for empty fields or erroneous values that can affect their analysis.
  • Enhanced Performance with Data Management Programs: The more challenging it is for data analysts to locate, get, prepare, and trust data, the less likely it is that business intelligence (BI) projects and big data projects will be successful. A data catalog assists in finding new opportunities for cross-selling, up-selling, targeted marketing, and more by giving your data/business analysts a single, accurate, and comprehensive representation of their clients. 
  • Faster, More Accurate Data and Analysis: With analysis and solutions based on the most pertinent, contextual data available within your business, your data professionals can respond quickly to issues, difficulties, and opportunities and create a competitive edge.

A data catalog can help you in implementing data lake governance by fostering, streamlining, or automating governance. This prevents data swamps and offers the policy framework for creating, implementing, and supervising AI models with an emphasis on sincerity, accountability, safety, and clarity.

Role of Data Catalog in The Modern Data Stack

Role of Data Catalog in Modern Data Stack, What is Data Catalog | Hevo Data
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In this section on what is data catalog, we discuss what space the data catalog occupies in the modern data stack.

While the cultural shift towards the cloud-native modern data stack has always been aimed at making organizations entirely data-driven, the numbers presented by a survey conducted by NewVantagePartners in 2021 suggest otherwise. According to the survey, the percentage of companies that claim to be data-driven has come down from 37% in 2017 to 24% in 2021. 

Companies may more easily create a cloud-native data architecture that is scalable and accessible thanks to the modern data stack. However, much of the potential of the modern data stack is wasted if data producers and consumers can’t quickly discover the data they need and can’t comprehend the data when they do. 

Your whole firm must be able to utilize data to quickly, accurately, and respond to business problems if you want to become data-driven. A modern data catalog helps you manage your data resources, govern your metadata, define essential business terminology, give access to datasets, and make data more discoverable, trustworthy, and understandable.

Data catalogs contain collaboration elements to let the teams work together by allowing comments in a dataset, ranking them, and creating wiki-like pages. These collaborative features also allow for the provision of crowd-sourced metadata on the data’s reliability. In this sense, data catalogs are useful for both internal and external reasons, since they lay the groundwork for data exchange.

What is Data Cataloging Business Use Case?

Manage Data Resources Better

Understanding what data assets you have inside your business, who owns them, where they exist, & when they were last utilized or modified is an excellent starting point for data catalogs. 

To get a comprehensive view of your data resources, data catalogs may link to and crawl other apps in your data stack, bringing in data and related information. Users can simply identify materials and ensure critical terminology is properly defined in their organization-wide business dictionary.

How Datahut Succeeded in Managing Their Data Resources

Datahut, a multibillion-dollar software-as-a-service corporation specializing in financial and human capital management indexes and organizes its data assets using a cloud data catalog, linking data assets and the individuals who use them on a common business glossary. 

With the use of data catalogs, the company’s employees can now quickly identify what they need, ask the appropriate coworkers for assistance, and use trustworthy data consistently by creating a single source of truth. As a result, their data is easier to obtain, more valuable, more usable, and redundant-free.

Easily Comprehend Your Metadata

Concerning themselves with “command and control” is one of the biggest mistakes businesses make when it comes to data. Limiting access or managing the data with a technology that only a small group of IT and governance professionals are familiar with, results in making the data inaccessible to all but a select few. Data users have to continually submit requests to IT, which is unable to keep up with the demand, delaying important analysis. 

Modern data catalogs help make data governance and stewardship more agile. Data catalogs can reveal who generated a certain data asset when it was created, & what analysis was derived from it. Users that want access to a restricted dataset can submit a request from inside the data catalog and, in compliance with corporate policy, will either be given or refused access.

How Aceable Succeeded in Comprehending Their Metadata 

Aceable, a cutting-edge technology firm, saves time by optimizing data procedures and enabling self-service data access. They needed a rapid approach to get data without using up the resources of their business analysts to foster more cash flow. 

A single individual at Aceable can now ingest, integrate, and query the data to determine revenue recognition thanks to data cataloging. The workload of the analysts has decreased and the time-consuming analysis bottlenecks are avoided by streamlining the procedure. C-suite executives can therefore get critical company information faster.

Faster Data Discovery & Search

A Google-like experience for searching and discovering data should be provided by modern data catalogs. Additionally, these new catalogs must include extensive query, virtualization, and collaboration capabilities as they no longer only pertain to IT and governance.

Everyone in the organization should be able to share, reuse, and comment on data and analysis once it is made discoverable.

How VK Associates Succeeded in Data Discovery and Search

VK Associates, a multinational management consulting firm, has a reputation for being at the cutting edge of innovation by utilizing data cataloging in assisting its clients in finding answers to their business-related inquiries. Any latency in responding to a client’s inquiry may result in lost income for the business, thus they sought to speed the process of discovering, analyzing, and applying data to provide analysis.

This firm has developed a curated, user-friendly data gateway using a data catalog. Automated context gathering, continuous analysis, and identification of connections across datasets, projects, and teams offered by the data catalog enable the company’s business and data teams to work with data more collaboratively and effectively.

Real-World Impact of Using Data Catalogs

Mirum, a Global Digital Experience Agency, is Simplifying its Data Projects

Mirum is a borderless agency of over 2,500 individuals across 25 nations. The secret to how Mirium delivers outstanding experiences for customers like Mazda and Qualcomm is data—and data-literate people. Mirum sought to advance their already advanced approach to data analysis and better package their data in order to increase the value of their knowledge.

Data cataloging assisted Mirum in integrating its workflows and new data standards across projects and teams. Email-based communication was replaced by specific project comment threads for discussion between staff, across agencies, and client stakeholders.

Now, a single platform, their data catalog, houses the whole data project lifecycle. Business and data teams at Mirum do their work using the data catalog and then distribute it to their clients via the same.

The Associated Press is Changing the Way News is Reported

More than half of the world’s population receives local news from the Associated Press (AP) through runs and stories in local media on any given day. Delivering story-relevant data to the appropriate individuals in local newsrooms, however, is a challenging feat. 

Previously, information would be sent to the incorrect recipients at the incorrect times, ending up in inboxes distant from its intended users. Finding, validating, and cleansing the data took up the majority of the project’s time, almost 80% of it. As a result, there was a high entrance hurdle for using data, and local newsrooms sometimes lacked the time, personnel, and resources.

The Associated Press utilized data cataloging to make data journalism more accessible by changing the way data is delivered to local newsrooms. Without leaving the platform or starting up a database, technical users may now develop and distribute queries more quickly. Additionally, non-technical users who lack prior coding or data science understanding can slice data for their local news markets. 

Now that findings can be exported in widely used formats, anybody may delve in and obtain clean data more quickly. The public may now be informed about how national events influence their local communities thanks to actionable data that is now available to newsrooms around the nation.

Final Words

Understanding what is data catalog and its use cases is the first step toward implementing it along with your modern data stack.

A metadata solution that is quick, adaptable, and scalable as the rest of your modern data stack thus becomes essential. Data catalogs serve as the modern data stack’s operating system – a knowledge source, and center for collaboration. It provides a centralized location for your data consumers, enabling your business and data teams to share and exchange knowledge and insight into their data assets.

Once your business and data teams start using data catalogs, they get to avail all the necessary information and understanding of the data assets’ contents and purpose. This ultimately helps you better serve your customers and drastically improve the efficacy of your business operations.

Give us your thoughts about understanding what is data catalog in the comment section below. We’d love to hear your opinions on what is data catalog and how it has helped your organization excel in data management.

Akshaan Sehgal
Former Marketing Content Analyst, Hevo Data

Akshaan is a data science enthusiast who loves to embrace challenges associated with maintaining and exploiting growing data stores. He has a flair for writing in-depth articles on data science where he incorporates his experience in hands-on training and guided participation in effective data management tasks.

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