What Is Data Cataloging and Why Is It Important?

Data availability has grown as companies become data-driven. Discover how data cataloging can help.

What Is Data Cataloging and Why Is It Important?

In today’s data-driven world, it’s essential for businesses to access and manage their data effectively. Still, it’s too easy for your data lake to become an overwhelming data swamp. 

From multiple data sources across different teams to not having the right tech stack in place, you can quickly get lost in your own data.

This is where a data catalog can help.

It’s about getting the process right to help everyone find and manage accurate analytics to make data-driven decisions.

First things first, what is data cataloging and why should your business consider implementing it? In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about data cataloging, its benefits, its use cases, and what to look for in an excellent tool.

Unveiling its Power and Necessity

Let’s start with the basics – how do we define a data catalog and why should your business have one?

What is a Data Catalog?

Imagine you are working for a library with no sorting system or processes in place. Chances are, you’ll spend way too much time finding the right book for each occasion. Readers would equally be frustrated when browsing books in random order.

In a data context, a data catalog brings order into chaos.

A data catalog is a collection of metadata and search and management tools for data. It helps data teams and business users find the data they need by accessing all available data points in one place. Data cataloging is the usage of a data catalog – the process of creating and indexing organized inventories of your data.

As the need for big data and business intelligence (BI) increases, data catalogs help you access and understand metadata to gain valuable business insights, all in one tool. 

When done correctly, data cataloging provides visibility into all data and serves as a single, authoritative source of truth. From finding the data you are looking for across your stack to analyzing different data sets to make data-driven decisions.

Why does every modern business need one?

It is estimated that data professionals spend around 40% of their time gathering and cleaning data. This is an important reason to invest in data cataloging to improve your process and be more efficient. 

It’s not the only reason your business needs a data catalog, though. 

Here are additional reasons to consider:

  1. Ensure consistent data quality

Data quality is crucial to put trust in your data. Still, many businesses struggle with poor data quality that can be too time-consuming, manual, and prone to errors.

A modern data catalog can serve as a single, trustworthy source of truth.

It can produce data profiles, classify data (particularly sensitive PII data), and spot duplication, abnormalities, and inconsistencies in data. Scheduled data quality checks can also ensure that your data is constantly up-to-date.

  1. Cut wasteful spending

Using the right data cataloging tools can help you halve the time and money spent on data organization. Granted, data catalogs are an investment but when used properly, they can save significant amounts of money and even increase business profits.  The cost of implementing a data catalog may at first seem like a barrier, but in fact, it can produce long-term savings.

Imagine, for example, if you are able to cut down the time spent on looking for data from 40% to 15%. Just like that, you are able to amplify your team's capabilities and efficiency, which in turn gives the company equipped with more resources concentrated on driving core business insights and getting things done.

  1. Be compliant with regulations

The regulatory climate is expected to tighten more. According to Gartner, through 2024, 75% of the world will be governed by data privacy laws that include subject rights requests and consent — similar to what we already see with the European Union’s GDPR.

This is the right time to invest in data catalogs to guarantee regulatory compliance.

Metadata tagging in a modern data catalog allows for the automatic classification of sensitive material and stricter control over who has access to what assets. If you want to make sure that your data satisfies the requirements of regulations like the CCPA, HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, and any other privacy law that may come to pass, compliance officers can work with your data team to keep a close eye on it.

Data cataloging means that any flaws or anomalies with private information can also be identified and fixed. If compliance officers discover that sensitive information is stored in an inappropriate location, for instance, they can rectify the situation by working with the data team to protect the information and reevaluate the company’s security.

  1. Improve data accessibility

The data consumer can use a data catalog to perform a search for desired information. When a user needs information, they can get it whenever they want — all with a click of a button.

Data governance — the administration of data availability, integrity, usefulness, and security — is predicated on a set of guiding principles and internal regulations formulated around data. Data catalogs indicate the kind and placement of a company's data resources. Thanks to this, you can more easily track where your data comes from and where it goes.

Maintaining an accurate audit trail throughout an asset's lifetime requires tracking its history or whereabouts within an organization, both of which can be accomplished with the help of a data catalog and its data lineage capabilities. Here, you may keep track of all the updates made to a data asset and how those modifications affect related data sets.

Modern data catalogs also provide role- and asset-level permission granularity. Thus, private data is safeguarded because just the appropriate amount of access is granted to each user. According to a recent report, almost 25% of employees still have access to their accounts in former companies. Furthermore, a 2019 study by GetApp shows that 48% of employees have access to more company data than they need to accomplish their tasks, while 12% of those surveyed report having access to all company data. Honestly, that’s a surprising number. However, with granular permissions in place, you can control who has access to what, protect sensitive data, and make data available to more people who should see it.

  1. Enhance data analysis

The greatest benefit of data catalogs may be the way in which they affect data analysis processes. When businesses successfully deploy a data catalog, they can rest assured that their data analysis will benefit greatly in both quality and efficiency. Your data team will be able to find and understand data more easily so that they can spend time using it in analyses rather than searching for what to use. They'll also have more context about the data – such as its popularity when it was updated, owners, and where it's used – which will make it easier to know that they're using the best data for a given project.

And when done well, data analysis can result in happy consumers, additional users, increased revenue, and fruitful business decisions.

Identifying the Key Beneficiaries of Data Cataloging

Who said a data catalog is only useful for a data team? A modern data catalog should enable your whole team to find, understand, and trust your data.  Here is how different teams can benefit from data cataloging. 

Data teams

Your data team would be the first one to use a data catalog. Instead of being stuck in data request bottlenecks, they can build a lean data culture that builds trust and democratizes data.

In other words, a data catalog can supercharge your data team to build a common language around data that allows them to spend more time on deeper analysis and optimization.

For example, a Data Analyst can use a data catalog to reduce the time spent on searching the data to facilitate data-driven impact.

Data Engineers can use a modern data catalog to have a holistic view of the data stack with end-to-end lineage to visualize their data pipeline at scale.

Meanwhile, Data Scientists can reduce the time they spend on repetitive tasks to focus on building powerful predictive models.

Governance teams

It’s crucial for governance teams to monitor how data is used and by who across the data stack. A data catalog can be the single source of truth that helps them manage data quality, security, and compliance. 

Using a modern data catalog, governance teams can cultivate reliable data quality to build a lean data stack. They can also automate and crowdsource documentation and lineage while having visibility into who has access across all data.

For example, a Data Steward can use a data catalog to manage data quality and consistency to ultimately foster a collaborative data culture. 

Business teams

All business teams want to find and understand data to use it in the right company context. However, silos and lack of understanding or trust can complicate this process.

A data catalog can help business users discover the right data, improve communication with different teams, and build a common language around trusted data.

Instead of relying on the data team to access the information they are looking for, they are able to make confident decisions knowing that they can trust the data they have access to.

Solving Business Challenges with Data Cataloging

There are many challenges that prevent companies from embracing a data-driven culture:

  • Difficulty in finding the right data at the right time
  • No centralized documentation
  • Difficulty in maintaining healthy data while scaling 
  • Struggle of accessing a company-wide data overview
  • Lack of skills or collaboration that keeps data in silos

Do any of these sound familiar? Don’t panic. 

Data Catalog Use Cases

Here are six use cases on how data catalogs can help your business use data within context to make more informed decisions.

1. Data discovery

Whether you’re a Head of Data or a Business Analyst, it shouldn’t be a challenge to find the right data.

A modern data catalog can help you discover the right data in seconds with metrics, dashboard, tables, and columns that make it easier to understand the context behind your data.

With features such as data lineage and data profiling, you are able to understand the links between different datasets or what you need to do to maintain consistent data quality. 

It also makes it easier to build a collaborative culture where everyone understands how to access the right data. 

2. Automate and centralize documentation

Documentation shouldn’t be manual and time-consuming. 

Data teams and governance teams can benefit from automated documentation that allows them to be more efficient.

A modern catalog can make documentation effortless with the use of automated ingestion across the data stack. As the centralized source of truth for all data, it makes it easier to get full visibility on all data flows with end-to-end lineage.

Most importantly, it builds a shared understanding of organizational knowledge to facilitate company-wide adoption. 

3. Data governance and compliance

It’s crucial to know that your data is used appropriately and securely. As data grows, it can be challenging for governance teams to maintain healthy data and manage compliance.

A data catalog helps you monitor your full data stack to track asset ownership, oversee compliance, and avoid potential inconsistencies.

You are able to control asset owners, and access automated suggestions on unused or duplicate assets, while everyone benefits from an easy-to-use interface. 

Moreover, the high-level view of your data helps everyone understand their use of data and where it sits in the data ecosystem to promote visibility and accountability. 

4. Data optimization

It’s expensive to be surrounded by inefficient workflows, duplicate assets, and fragmented tools.

A data catalog can help you streamline your data management to be more efficient and cut costs. You are able to identify and debug issues, explore optimization suggestions, and declutter your data stack to improve your efficiency.

Moreover, end-to-end visibility allows you to identify and focus on the most critical assets while managing data owners and teams. 

5. Crowdsource your company knowledge

In many companies, silos can prevent teams from having a clear picture of data that can shape a business decision. Even worse, data may be lost from one team to the other due to the lack of streamlined processes.

A modern data catalog that is tailored to all business users makes it easier to democratize data access and crowdsource company knowledge.

It allows you to build a common language around data without feeling trapped in silos. Having a centralized source of data helps all teams find and access the data they are looking for without over-relying on the data teams. 

Moreover, automated documentation and data lineage combined with collaborative data-sharing features make it easier for everyone to be more efficient while gaining better context in the use of data.  

6. Making data accessible to everyone

For many data users, it can be overwhelming to use a new data tool. The best way to ensure company-wide adoption in your new data catalog is to aim for a tool that is built for everyone.

If you want to build a data-driven culture, you need to find a modern data catalog that is tailored both for technical and business users.

A simplified user experience guarantees that all users will feel comfortable using the data catalog to find and understand data. 

For example, CastorDoc was designed with viral adoption in mind so that both data teams and business teams can be comfortable using it.

Collaboration features can help you bring different teams together while building shared knowledge within your company. 

How to maximize the business impact of data cataloging

At this stage, you understand the benefits of data cataloging. Now, how can you maximize its business impact?

Let’s look at the Data Catalog ROI

The process of finding out a data catalog’s ROI for your business is split into two parts:

1. How much you save

This is where you focus on numbers. You want to find out how much your business can save with the use of a data catalog and the use cases you have in mind. 

You can start with assumptions based on existing costs and use cases to examine where you are and where you could be.

For example, what’s the process for data onboarding with or without a data catalog? What’s the cost associated with each scenario? 

Find out more about the Data ROI Calculator and what you need to know.

2. The cost of waiting too long to implement data discovery

The second and equally important part has to do with the cost calculation for late implementation.

Data documentation may not be a priority for all businesses at the start but the technical debt keeps growing as you scale. As your data and your teams grow, it becomes more complicated to set up a data catalog – from the initial cost to the process of populating the catalog with metadata or training your team.

Thus, it’s important to plan early to avoid discovering higher costs and missed opportunities. 

Essential Elements to Leverage Data Cataloging

Before you choose a data catalog, it’s important to go through a proof of concept (POC) to understand the value of a data catalog and how it can help your business.

Here are seven key steps in the data catalog POC:

  • Confirm the problem you want to solve. Map out your current challenges, how they prevent you from streaming your data management, and what you need to do next.
  • Plan your budget. Make a case about the budget you need – from the initial costs to the ongoing management. You can also link these to the ROI and how much you can save to make a case for a data catalog.
  • Find an advocate. Find a sponsor that is both authoritative and available to help with the process of getting ready to use a data catalog.
  • Do your research. Write down all the questions you have and how you are planning to find the answers. Spend time to explore different tools and how you could use them.
  • Identify stakeholders. Work with a number of key stakeholders within the business to ensure there is a smooth transition from the current situation to getting a data catalog to work for you.
  • Decide on the most important features for you. Every data catalog stands out with different features. Find the ones that are crucial for your needs to decide on the most valuable tool for your business.
  • Define success. Set milestones and metrics that define success for the project – from getting the right tool to aiming for a smooth implementation and a good ROI.

Find more details about each step here. 

Overcoming Obstacles in Implementing Effective Data Cataloging

It’s important to understand all the potential barriers that could impact your data catalog’s implementation. The sooner you acknowledge these, the easier it will be to plan on how to address them.

Here are the most common data cataloging challenges along with tips on how to overcome them.

Scattered documentation without a clear hierarchy

For many organizations, data is scattered among different teams or tools. Without a data catalog, your documentation may be split across multiple sources. Moreover, the lack of hierarchy can make your documentation messy as the data grows.

- How to address the challenge: Start by establishing a clear structure and get everyone on board with it. Create a centralized homepage to create clean documentation. Make sure it’s easy for everyone to understand and access. 

Not knowing how to choose the right data catalog

It can be overwhelming to choose a data catalog when there are various options available. Choosing a data catalog that doesn’t meet your expectations can slow down or negatively affect the effectiveness and accessibility of your data.

- How to address the challenge: Map out the most important features of the data catalog you’ll choose. Think of your team and what they’ll need to stay consistent with using a data catalog.

When choosing a data catalog, find a tool that allows scalability without affecting its performance. Looking at the key features, strong data lineage, metadata indexing, and search features guarantees your data catalog’s performance won’t be impacted when you scale. 

No process in knowing who has access to data

The challenge of scattered data or not knowing where your documentation lives can lead to significant compliance risks. You can even be at risk of sharing sensitive information with unauthorized users.

- How to address the challenge: This is another feature to look out for in a data catalog. A modern data catalog can classify and protect sensitive information to give you an overview of all access controls. You can also automate tasks that monitor high-risk queries to protect your privacy and security. Be consistent with frequent audits to ensure your data remains safe. 

Low user adoption that impacts collaboration

Before you invest in a data catalog, you need to get your team on board. Whether you already have a data-driven culture or not, it’s a challenge to be consistent with documentation. This creates the risk of going back to silos and a lack of communication between different teams.

- How to address the challenge: Educate everyone in the company about the benefits of using a data catalog. Work with different teams to establish processes that ensure a smooth transition to new ways of working. Choose a data catalog that has an easy-to-use interface to make everyone feel more comfortable in using it. 

Key Features of an Effective Data Catalog

With a clean, quick, and transparent data catalog, analysis is at your fingertips. Your data catalog should give your staff the tools they need to gain deeper insights from data and make rapid, informed decisions. This is the first step toward reaching your company’s data-driven goals.

But don’t just pick out any old data catalog tool! Doing your research is imperative in ensuring that you’re hitting the right data cataloging benchmarks. You should keep an eye out for these features:

1. Search functionality

Data science, analytics, and data engineering all necessitate users to access relevant sets of data quickly. For this reason, a data catalog's search and filtering capabilities should be highly intuitive so you can explore data asset metadata and find what you need. Allowing users to add technical information, user-defined tags, or commercial phrases can help achieve better search functionality.

2. Metadata management

A good data cataloging system should allow its users to manage their metadata and have visibility of that metadata across the full data stack. This can be in the form of tags, associations, user-defined annotations, categories, ratings, and more. Good data catalogs should be able to ingest existing documentation (e.g., DBT docs), sync back, and allow you to add on top of it.

3. Data lineage

Having access to a data set's transformation history and original source can give users peace of mind that they know where their data comes from and how it has been prepared for usage. When making critical judgments based on information, knowing where that data came from is crucial. This is why data lineage should be a key feature in the data cataloging tool you choose.

4. Automation and intelligence

Due to the massive amounts of data that must be processed nowadays, automation is becoming an indispensable asset that data cataloging tools need to have. We recommend tools that can automate documentation based on existing assets.

Choosing CastorDoc: Your Partner in Effective Data Cataloging

If you are ready to invest in data cataloging, we have the right tool for you.

CastorDoc is a modern data catalog that enables everyone in the business to find, understand, and trust your data. It is built for viral adoption to ensure that all data users benefit from it – from the head of data to the business analyst.

What makes it stand out from the competition?

  • Streamlined data catalog creation process
  • Comprehensive metadata management and data lineage capabilities
  • Advanced search and discovery features
  • Seamless integration with existing systems
  • Robust security and privacy measures
  • The market leader in ‘Ease of Use’ to give everyone access to data 

But don’t take our word for it. G2 users rated CastorDoc with 4.7/5 praising its features in key categories such as Ease of Use (9.6/10), Quality of Support (9.7/10), and Ease of Setup (9.4/10)

Ready to give it a go? Try CastorDoc today with a 14-day free trial and enhance your data experience. 

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