With data being such an intrinsic element of every enterprise, the realization of the need to apply human interpretation is critical to the success of most data management solutions. Everyone, from department leaders to the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, has begun to realize the tremendous power of data throughout an organization. When you can get deep insight into the drivers of your customer purchasing decisions, it provides you a significant advantage in your organization’s ability to deliver superior customer experience.
Establishing a flexible and dynamic Data Catalog solution is a critical step in data democratization for the enterprise. At the same time, introducing a data catalog tool or solution which does not meet the scalable and unique needs of your business will only slow you down. Instead of getting a streamlined data lifecycle, you end up with a clunky, hard-to-use system that no one, internally or externally, can utilize to better your operations.
This article provides some insights into the various ways data catalog tools help support your goals while focusing on the key features, various types, and some considerations in selecting a data catalog solution fit to the challenges of your team.
What is a Data Catalog tool?
The best data catalog tools use metadata and other factors to properly inventory all of your different datasets into logically organized segments. The easier these data assets are divided and organized, the quicker your data scientists, researchers, executives, and other various parties can utilize the information.
This includes using AI-empowered tools to harvest valuable data at a moment’s notice. Considering many organizations now have externally facing data tools, it only makes sense to better organize the structure of your data assets to clients, customers, and more can take advantage of this resource.
Data catalog tools not only offer exceptional metadata management capabilities, but they improve and enforce standardization. When all the data assets have been properly sifted through and categorized, your team members will find the same reference points. This puts everyone on the same playing field regarding how the data will be used, further eliminating confusion and improving insights and reporting.
What are the types of Data Catalog tools?
The most significant need for the best data catalog tools is due to the massive volume of data being collected. When a local 4-person startup can intake terabytes of data at a reasonable price point, then the need for robust tools only gets more prominent as you scale to enterprise-level organizations.
Then you should consider the cross-platform and cross-referencing happening at a rapid pace throughout the business sector. Data scientists and researchers are using referential leaps from automated AI tools to uncover valuable new insights and identify where there may be potential risks within the company, industry, and market.
None of that is possible without first organization and adding reference points to every data asset. Otherwise, these tools would be trying to find a need in a haystack without even knowing how to identify the needle – and quite possibly, the hay.
A well-formed data catalog will interlink various data assets through glossaries, historical data, metadata, and what is being searched for the most. There are many advantages to using data catalog tools because they offer a new method of viewing information that would never have been possible before.
What are the key capabilities expected from today’s Data Catalog solutions
Easy and Intelligent Searches
A critical aspect of any data catalog solution is its ability to traverse a broad set of data sources using easy-to-understand, intelligent searches that are intuitive to the user. This is regardless of whether the tool is set up only for an internal team or with external clients, shareholders, leaders, and other employees. In addition, it should be able to provide quick and easy access to the information required based on the purpose and goals of the user.
Every search shouldn’t depend on the user identifying the data source version or update iteration. Instead, the data catalog services should identify schema, table, or data element changes to the source datasets. This helps data citizens reconcile variances and also provides better reliance on the data pipeline throughputs.
Active Lineage Tracking
Whenever you or your team want to dig into the who, what, why, when, and how of any data assets, the data catalog tool should provide accurate lineage tracking with historical documentation. This should go all the way back to the original source and provide clear points or progressions on how that data has been used. That includes if any new schema was introduced. This also aids in data governance to adhere to industry-specific regulations, oversight, and general data reliability due to increased accuracy through tracking.
There should always be intelligence on the relevance of search. That means a clear mapping of the table, purpose, data attributes, and relevancy based on the criteria entered should be present to the user. It should make logical sense that an uncovered insight or search prompts results that can be easily deciphered by the user, regardless of their role.
Understanding the downstream impact that may be caused by breakage or change is a critical aspect of the high-value data cataloging solution. This requires your solution to interpret data using current tagging or capture notes. The point is to have a long-term solution that grows and adapts to the needs and inputs of your users.
What is the need for technology-enabled Data Catalog solutions?
Given the various needs of the open market, there are as many types of data catalogs as the developers can imagine. However, they tend to break down the various clients’ industries, features, and needs.
Generally, you can classify most into either enterprise data catalog software or open-source data catalog tools. In the case of enterprise data catalog software, these tend to be off-the-shelf solutions that are a bit harder to customize and result in companies being locked into long-term contracts that often involve intensive training. They have exceptional UI/UX, and commercial consumption programs with maintenance and support and offer solid transparency.
Open-source solutions are often more customizable and can be integrated into a wide array of solutions due to the vibrant online community that is constantly updating, redefining, and accelerating new tools within the software. Although they can offer better economics, the feature set may not be as rich, and formalized support and maintenance programs may not exist.
A new type is emerging known as services-led data catalog tools. This is where the emphasis is placed on the business outcomes of the enterprise and not on the tools or technologies available by a vendor. With clear business objectives, defined enterprises can address these requirements with a services layer that is powered by technology and integrated with services. This results in a purpose-built solution that can address unique requirements and deliver flexibility to scale and adapt to changing business conditions.
What to consider when evaluating Data Catalog Solutions?
When you start your journey in the market for the best data catalog tools, think about the following:
Who will use the solution?
You need a data catalog solution that can be easily used by the intended target. For higher adoption across the enterprise, the UI/UX, i.e search feature needs to be intuitive, simple, and appealing to the stakeholders.
What infrastructure will the tools require?
While everyone prefers 3rd party managed cloud-based solutions, these are not always possible in industries with heavy oversight and regulation. Sometimes the security concerns outweigh the access controls or availability, so you should consider these needs prior to seeking a solution.
Can it be integrated into current processes?
The goal is to find data catalog tools that your team can easily use and onboard with little training. This way, there are only minor interruptions to the current workflow and, hopefully, improvements in efficiencies over time.
What is the price in the short & long term?
You need to pay close attention to the specific cost structure of any data catalog tool. Unfortunately, a lot of vendors have subscriptions or “locked-in” plans that can become cost-prohibitive in the long run.
Can you deploy a prototype and extract value in a short period of time?
Of course, the best way to find an appropriate data catalog tool for your organization is being able to give it a test run. The vendor should have some form of the demo available so you can better understand how these will interact with your needs.
Application of Data Catalog Features in Modern Businesses
In general, most companies recognize the ability of the best data catalog tools to help with:
- Improving the quality of data assets across an organization
- Offering more precise tracking of data through the lifecycle
- Uncovering potential risks or flaws within current data flows
- Greater controls, especially of sensitive data assets
- Ability to integrate AI/ML solutions to gain further insights
- Simplified organization and access controls for a broader range of users
However, there are many industry-specific advantages and applications of data catalogs. A healthcare provider will seek out specific HIPPA compliance in data catalog tools. Manufacturing may want guided navigation for queries, and finance teams may wish for more customizable APIs to integrate with the various market software and data sources.
The fact is the applications seem only to be limited by the provider. The more experienced the data catalog vendor, the greater the ability of applications unique to your company. This is another reason to seek out service-led options instead of commercial off-the-shelf software-based solutions.
Whether you need a self-service set of data catalog tools for an outward-facing solution or robust oversight controls in your metadata management, there are numerous data catalog tools available. You can use many of the suggested tips to find an appropriate tool for your organization.
At NextPhase, we encourage our previous, current, and potential clients to ask us as many questions as they would like about how data can be best utilized in your business operations.
We have developed data solutions that allow your business to experience greater insight, uncover potential underutilized processes, and streamline overall operations. Schedule a consultation with us today to get started.