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Alation launches benchmark tool to assess data maturity

The data catalog specialist's new tool examines four key criteria, including literacy and governance, in assessing an organization's business intelligence culture.

Alation on Wednesday unveiled a new benchmarking tool designed to help organizations measure the maturity of their data culture.

The Data Culture Maturity Assessment examines four aspects of a given enterprise's data operations: data search and discovery, governance, literacy, and leadership.

By scrutinizing those criteria, the tool determines the overall state of that organization's data operation and ability to derive business value from its data. But perhaps even more importantly, the tool and others like it allow enterprises to understand what might need improvement, according to Stewart Bond, an analyst at IDC.

"Benchmarking tools are important so that organizations can understand where they are," he said. "But more importantly, [they help organizations understand] what they need to do to improve and become better."

Based in Redwood City, Calif., Alation is a data catalog specialist whose platform lets organizations connect disparate data systems to reduce data isolation as well as organize data products, such as models and dashboards, so enterprises can easily discover and operationalize data to inform decisions.

In October, the vendor launched in general availability its Analytics Cloud, a set of benchmarking tools including the Alation Consumption Tracker and Data Catalog Value Index. Like the Data Culture Maturity Assessment, the Analytics Cloud is aimed at enabling enterprises to understand their data initiatives relative to similar organizations.

In addition to the Analytics Cloud, Alation in October unveiled, in public preview, Allie AI, a generative AI assistant designed to improve the efficiency of data engineers, analysts and stewards who oversee their organization's data.

Beyond Alation, independent vendors with data catalog offerings include Collibra – which, like Alation, offers a data maturity assessment tool -- and Informatica. Meanwhile, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are among the tech giants that provide data catalogs as part of their larger data management and analytics portfolios.

Measuring up

In 2020, a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review with analytics vendor ThoughtSpot showed that organizations that empowered employees with the tools and knowledge to make their own data-informed decisions grew at a faster rate than other enterprises.

A follow-up study two years later linked self-service analytics with increased productivity in addition to overall organizational growth

Beyond faster growth and increased productivity, self-service analytics has been tied to the agile decision-making needed to act and react in real time to quickly changing economic conditions.

However, it is not easy to create a data culture that fosters self-service analytics and empowers business users to make their own data-informed decisions.

Whether developed in-house by an enterprise's IT staff or purchased from an analytics vendor, the tools required to use data to fuel decisions are not easy to use. Most require coding to query and analyze data. Even those that don't require training in data literacy.

In addition, developing and deploying data management and analytics platforms can be expensive, especially with data volume and data complexity both increasing and clouds generally charging for usage rather than a flat rate.

That cost puts yet another barrier between the hope of developing a data culture and the reality of doing so.

As a result of the numerous hindrances, the average use of analytics within most organizations has been stagnant for about two decades with only about a quarter of all employees using data as part of their normal workflow.

Some enterprises far exceed 25% while others fall far short.

Even among those successfully making analytics use widespread, there are varying degrees of efficacy. However, beyond knowing how many employees use analytics in their workflow, organizations often have little way of knowing how well their data and analytics operations compare to similar organizations.

Alation's Data Culture Maturity Assessment aims to provide that knowledge, which is particularly valuable when enterprises are determining whether to increase their investments in data management and analytics, according to Wayne Eckerson, founder and analyst at Eckerson Group.

"Companies like assessments to know where they stand relative to their peers," he said. "This is really important when trying to justify the purchase of a new tool or gaining executive support for a new strategy."

However, Eckerson, whose firm offers its own analytics program assessment capabilities, added that he's seen the popularity of benchmarking tools decline of late.

He noted that in his experience doing assessments at the Eckerson Group, having one person within an organization rate its data and analytics operations is not necessarily effective.

"[Such assessments] are less popular these days than in the past, it seems to me," Eckerson said. "Most companies know where they stand, and people don't like filling out surveys anymore. Also can one person speak for the organization or team?"

To take the Data Culture Maturity Assessment, Alation users can use the same portal in the Analytics Cloud they use to access the Alation Consumption Tracker and Data Catalog Value Index.

Once there, they are presented with a series of questions related to how easy it is search and discover their organization's data, the level of data literacy that permeates their enterprise, the measures that govern their enterprise's data and whether there is commitment from organizational leadership.

Data literacy is critical to data maturity because business users need to understand the data with which they're working, according to Julie Smith, Alation's director of data and analytics.

In addition, she noted that search and discovery are important because they are what determine whether a business user can be self-sufficient, governance is critical sets organizational standards while simultaneously enabling end users, and leadership is what provides sponsorship and resources as well as sets the culture.

"You could debate with people and come up with all sorts of different angles around data maturity," Smith said. "But over time, we've boiled it down to these four. … We didn't want to make this so complicated that it [becomes a hindrance. But at the same time, it boils [data maturity] down to where it gives meaningful insight."

Benchmarking tools are important so that organizations can understand where they are. But more importantly, [they help organizations understand] what they need to do to improve and become better.
Stewart BondAnalyst, IDC

After taking the survey, Alation users receive a report that assesses their data maturity, which ultimately is a measurement of both technological investment and enablement of personnel, according to Smith.

"You can't forget the people," she said. "That's what drives the culture. A data-driven organization without a true data culture is like a ship without a crew. You can have all you need to navigate the world, but you still need someone there to say where to go."

As for the criteria examined in Alation's Data Culture Maturity Assessment, Bond said that other criteria that could be included are soft skills and overall satisfaction with the data.

However, he noted that as a data catalog vendor, Alation already has access to other information such as the connectivity of an organization's data management and analytics systems as well as the business outcomes of its data projects.

"Alation … captures many of the measurable metrics that are dimensions of effective data culture and high levels of data literacy, and therefore offers potential to help organizations improve," Bond said.

Future plans

With the Data Culture Maturity Assessment now joining the Alation Consumption Tracker and Data Catalog Value Index as part of Alation's Analytics Cloud, Bond said he'd like the vendor's roadmap to focus on continuing to add capabilities to its data catalog.

In addition, he noted that as a specialist, there is an opportunity for Alation to expand beyond its narrow focus to offer a broader set of features.

"I would like to see more innovations from Alation leveraging what it already has to make the product better and to offer broader sets of capabilities to customers, not only to help Alation increase market presence but [because] it contributes to its customers' success," Bond said.

Smith, meanwhile, said that Alation's roadmap will continue to focus on finding ways to help enterprises improve their data maturity and develop a data culture.

As part of that focus, the vendor is looking at ways of expanding the use of data and analytics within organizations beyond the 25% barrier.

"We believe in data culture and its benefits and how you need to take people on that journey," Smith said. "That is a theme in the way that our product is evolving. We want to widen that user base … and help organizations build a data culture by providing the toolset with enhanced and new capabilities."

Eric Avidon is a senior news writer for TechTarget Editorial and a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He covers analytics and data management.

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