data catalog

A data catalog is a metadata management tool designed to help organizations find and manage large amounts of data – including tables, files and databases – stored in their ERP, human resources, finance and e-commerce systems as well as other sources like social media feeds. Data catalogs centralize metadata in one location, provide a full view of each piece of data across databases and contain information about the data’s location, profile, statistics, summaries and comments. This systematized service helps make data sources more discoverable and manageable for users and helps organizations make more informed decisions about how to use their data.

Big data, cloud services, self-service and increased regulation surrounding data privacy have fueled demand for data catalog solutions as businesses struggle to inventory massive amounts of distributed data. Data catalog applications cover a variety of capabilities outside of inventory such as data asset management, data governance, self-service analytics and improving analytic quality and productivity. By minimizing the number of data silos, reducing time-to-insight and providing a single source of truth for more accurate analytics, data catalogs help companies glean maximum value from their data assets.

Data catalogs can also be used to build portals that enable users to easily find data that has been curated by data stewards or other data professionals. Data in data catalogs can be classified in terms business users understand as well as with provided context for use with analytics applications. Data catalog users include non-technical business people as well as highly skilled data and business analysts.

Key features of a data catalog

A variety of data cataloging tools are available and new functions are continuously being added. Flexibility in usage and functionality is essential so that companies can capitalize on changes in technology and business. Catalogs should provide functions for its initial build, for continuing maintenance and for regular use by individuals to find and work with the data. As organizations grow and refine their needs and processes, the data catalog needs to be able to scale out as well.

Additionally, security, whether applied by the catalog or underlying systems, is crucial for protecting organizations’ data. This includes role-based access control (RBAC) security features, information on who accessed the data and auditing and encryption capabilities.

This was last updated in November 2020

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