What is a data catalog?

This article was written by Collibra and originally appeared on the Collibra Data Catalog Blog here: https://www.collibra.com/us/en/blog/what-is-a-data-catalog


A data catalog inventories and organizes all of a company’s data assets. It uses metadata to help data professionals discover, understand, trust and manage their data for governance or business purposes.

How does a data catalog work? 

Like a library catalog which provides a central location for you to easily look up the description, location and availability of all books in a library, a data catalog provides a comprehensive view of data across your organization. It serves as an inventory of data assets with its powerful search function that enables you to easily locate and access your data.

Similar to a book description in a library catalog, a data catalog provides business context around your data. This helps you know what data is available across the organization so you can make impactful business decisions. As a result, many organizations are placing data catalogs at the center of their metadata management strategies. They are using these catalogs to drive innovation, growth, and insightful business decisions.

But not all organizations have moved to implementing a data catalog. Many struggle to effectively and efficiently unlock the value of their data.

“90% of respondents see data as a high priority in decision making, but 47% struggle with a lack of efficiency when using data and 42% deal with poor quality data.”

Leverage your data, BARC

These organizations may wonder why do I need a data catalog? How would I use it? What are the business benefits?

This blog helps answer these questions. It illustrates the must-have capabilities of a data catalog so you can be sure you are getting the right catalog for your needs.

Why do I need a data catalog? 

Most organizations see data as crucial to their business strategy. According to a survey conducted by Forrester, 84% of respondents see data as central to generating accurate business decisions. But without a data catalog many organizations struggle to be data driven because their data is siloed across the organization.

In fact, business analysts spend 76% of their time finding, understanding and accessing data, instead of using data to generate insights. This time wasted can slow down analyses and ultimately innovation. To solve this problem, organizations must turn to a data catalog to help them…

  • Gain a unified view of all your data
  • Eliminate the pain of searching through chaotic data swamps to find the right data
  • Improve trust and confidence in your data
  • Increase productivity and operational efficiency
  • Accelerate time to insight

The ability to trust your data allows you to truly unlock the value of your data and generate meaningful, trusted business insights. It enables business users to spend less time searching for data and more time creating analyses. This ultimately speeds up time to insight. It allows your organization to adapt to the trends of the market as they occur and spend more time innovating.

Must-have capabilities of a data catalog 

Not all data catalogs are created equally. It is important to know what capabilities to look for when selecting a data catalog. Some catalog solutions are tactical and are built for IT and data engineers, not the business. These siloed solutions cannot be successfully deployed across an enterprise, and therefore, do not support data democratization. These solutions are only for the technical user and are not helpful to the entire business.

In contrast, strategically deployed data catalogs can catalog sources across the entire enterprise. These robust solutions help the whole company, not just IT.

A solution with broad metadata connectivity connects and ingests metadata from across the company. It ingests data from databases, data lakes, warehouses, enterprise applications, ETL tools, and BI solutions. This capability ensures that your data catalog is the one-stop-shop for data discovery.

Take back control of your data landscape

Robust data catalogs help organizations take back control of their data landscape by providing native, automated data lineage. Data lineage helps data users better understand their data by providing additional context. It shows where the data comes from, how the data transforms, and how it is used.

A solution with embedded data governance and data privacy is also crucial. Data governance and privacy enforce policies that control user access so you know that only the right people are using your data. This ensures that your data is accurate, consistent, complete, and discoverable.

Increase efficiency of your people and processes

An enterprise grade data catalog ensures that business analysts, data engineers, marketing, IT, HR and the rest of the company can unlock the value of their data through an easy to use data shopping experience. The data shopping experience allows data consumers to quickly and easily shop for and check out datasets through an eCommerce-like shopping experience.

On top of the data shopping feature, it is important to have a machine learning powered solution. An ML-powered data catalog saves time and increases productivity by automating manual tasks. It automates sorting, classifying, and organizing data assets. It also enriches data in the catalog by adding business context at scale.

Finally, collaboration is a key capability of any enterprise data catalog. Collaboration capabilities break down organizational silos and enable the sharing of data, knowledge and insights across an organization.

This helps improve data transparency for every user. With a data catalog, everyone across the company can access a centralized, enterprise wide repository of assets. This ensures a common understanding of the data and helps everyone easily discover relevant data to do their job.

Data catalog examples

With an enterprise, governed data catalog, you can deploy your data catalog across your organization. This helps you avoid data silos and empowers business users to easily discover and access trusted data. This increases productivity and helps drive business value by enabling the business to make accurate and impactful data-driven decisions.

More specifically, your data catalog can be used in a number of different use cases. An organization can use a data catalog to…

  • Enable self-service analytics for the business user
  • Get more value from your data and analytics investments, such as data lakes and BI tools
  • Accelerate your move to the cloud
  • Ensure regulatory compliance

At Collibra, we see data catalogs as a crucial part of an enterprise’s journey to achieving Data Intelligence. They are an important factor in driving revenue, improving efficiency, and generating innovation and growth.