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Collibra grows enterprise data governance for the cloud

Collibra CEO discusses the importance of data governance for enterprises and how to tie data governance to business terminology to go beyond simply controlling data.

Data is one of the most valuable assets an enterprise has, which is why data governance is critical to modern business success.

Among the many vendors and services in the data governance sector is Collibra, founded in 2008. This year, the vendor, based in New York City, has been busy, with a $100 million Series E round of funding in April and in June unveiling its Collibra Data Intelligence Cloud. The new system is a SaaS cloud offering that includes data governance, data catalog and data quality capabilities.

In this Q&A, Felix Van de Maele, co-founder and CEO of Collibra, discusses the challenges and opportunities of enterprise data governance and provides insight into where his company his headed in the future.

What has been the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Collibra?

Felix Van de Maele: As with every company, we had to definitely shift and become fully remote. That went relatively easy from a tooling perspective, because we already had a lot of employees working remotely.

We got lucky in the sense that we raised a new investment round in April. So that was good timing, with hindsight. So, from that sense, we were in a really strong position. But there was a lot of uncertainty in the April and May timeframe as nobody really knew how long the pandemic would last and what the recovery was going look like.

We did see business impact in the first half of the year. Companies still saw data governance as being important but from a budget perspective, a lot of companies were just taking a wait-and-see approach before spending.

Ever since the second quarter we have seen a strong recovery. I think it looks like a lot of companies have found their feet again and are reinvesting in data analytics and data governance.

Photo of Felix Van de Maele, CEO and co-founder of Collibra
Collibra CEO and co-founder Felix Van de Maele

What are common myths or misconceptions that you encounter about data governance?

Van de Maele: Part of the problem is with the name data governance itself, as it doesn't fully cover what companies need to do. That's why we now talk about data integrity as well.

The perception of data governance is that it's all about control and how to ensure compliance, and that continues to be really important. But data governance is also a type of technology that can help organizations treat data strategically.

Just because you can now more cheaply and easily store terabytes of data, you're not suddenly going to get more value out of your data.
Felix Van de MaeleCEO and co-founder, Collibra

Our belief is that the move to cloud and data lakes is good because it provides scale and will cost less, but ultimately that's not going to solve the problem. Just because you can now more cheaply and easily store terabytes of data, you're not suddenly going to get more value out of your data. I like to use the analogy of the needle in the haystack. What has happened is that with the cloud the haystack got much bigger, but you still need to find the needle.

The big constraint for getting true value out of data is really much more of a people problem. It's about how to help people find the data they need more easily. Companies often underestimate how many people actually interact with data and how many people produce data and how many systems use the data. You have to find a way to make that collaboration much more easily and much more effectively.

Treating data as an asset also means you have to treat it as a business function and look at it from a business growth perspective.

Where do you see the intersection of master data management (MDM), data catalog and data governance capabilities?

Van de Maele: MDM and data catalogs are really two different things and it's important to make that distinction.

MDM typically copies data like customer, supplier or product data and puts the most accurate version of the data in a governed repository so there is one master record. A data catalog is different. The data catalog ultimately doesn't store data; it just goes around and looks for the data that you already have and identifies where it's located.

As an analogy, MDM is like an encyclopedia where all the different pieces of information are collected into a single authoritative publication. A data catalog is like a library, where an index can show people where to find the book they are looking for.

Complex data volumes today have become so big that you can't discover all the data manually. You have to include some kind of automated discovery to make it easier. One step that we take at Collibra is we take the physical descriptions of data sets and align them with business terminology. That's where data catalog and data governance come together.

A data analyst, for example, might want to do analysis of customer churn but might not know where to find the right data. The term 'customer churn' is business language, but the data itself is often very technically described.

What's next for data governance at Collibra?

Van de Maele: Our definition of data intelligence is really about creating connections and connecting data sets together with business terminology.

We have a whole long-term product roadmap where we plan to enable more automation for data management tasks. Some of the things we're working on is how we can do MDM and data quality in a better way.

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