Data Catalog Benefits: 5 Key Reasons Why You Need One

March 16th, 2022

header image for Data Catalog Benefits: 5 Key Reasons Why You Need One

The benefits of a data catalog are:

  1. Improvement in employee productivity and quality of life
  2. Optimized data governance and business efficiency
  3. Ensuring consistent data quality
  4. Ensuring regulatory compliance
  5. Reduce spending and unnecessary costs

Let’s explore and understand these benefits in detail in this article.


Why do you need a data catalog?

When you walk into a library, you’ll see shelves upon shelves of books. Still, you will notice the ease with which a librarian helps you find and access the book you need — down to the exact shelf position.

That’s because libraries depend on physical and online catalogs to organize their information resources. The data universe faces a similar struggle, and data managers are waking up to the need for data catalogs as part of their data management and governance efforts.

Like libraries, organizations are dealing with more data than ever before — we created 64.2 zettabytes (i.e., 64.2 trillion gigabytes) of data in 2020, according to IDC.

For example, marketing teams track every user's interaction across hundreds of digital touchpoints — website, social media, and other apps. Hospitals maintain heaps of sensitive patient information — detailed health records, insurance details, social security numbers, and billing information.

However, most of that data is raw and unstructured, gathered from various sources. Therefore, before we extract value, that data must undergo several transformations. Without these transformations, your data is not just useless but also vulnerable to security breaches and compliance risks.

Data teams need better control and understanding of their data assets to draw valuable insights. That's where a data catalog can help.

What is a data catalog?

A data catalog is an organized inventory of an organization’s data assets, similar to the physical and online catalogs that libraries use. It helps technical and non-technical users find and access information quickly.

A data catalog has several modules or tools to:

  • Manage metadata (i.e., data about data)
  • Enable rapid search and discovery with adequate context
  • Support access control
  • Enable a robust data governance

One of the essential elements of a data catalog is metadata. Metadata provides crucial context about data with information, such as:

  • Data type
  • Data classification
  • Origins
  • Current location
  • Creation date
  • Last updated on
  • Change logs or revision history
  • Owner and editors

That’s why any data catalog worth its salt has to ensure active metadata management.

To know more about active metadata management, check out this article.

Benefits of a data catalog in detail

As mentioned earlier, a data catalog is one of the pillars necessary in modern data management. So, if you've been asking yourself, "why are data catalogs essential?", then here are five reasons outlining the benefits of data catalogs.

Benefit #1 — Improve employee productivity and quality of life

For businesses to achieve their mission of being data-driven, they must set up the systems and processes that make it easier for data citizens to access the required data as fast as possible. However, according to IBM research, businesses spend 70% of their time looking for their data and only 30% using the data.

Even when they get access, there’s not enough visibility into the transformations that data sets undergo. So, situations like the one below are commonplace.

  • Data analyst Jim needs sales and marketing data to determine which products performed best in the previous quarter. Jim finds the relevant data but has to clean and organize it before using it. It takes Jim a week to do that.
  • One week later, data scientist Pam is looking for the same data to input the sales information into the accounting department’s data. Pam has no idea Jim worked on the same data the previous week, so she repeats the entire data preparation process, making Jim’s work redundant.

While Jim and Pam work in the same organization, they end up repeating the same tasks, wasting time and effort that could have been spent more efficiently elsewhere.

Data catalogs eliminate the need for repetitive tasks and work done in silos by providing a central source of data for everyone. So, with a data catalog, Pam would see the transformations a certain data set has undergone and would have just used the version Jim had used.

A central repository with Google-like search powered by NLP (natural language programming) ensures that your teams spend less time looking for data and more time extracting value from it.

screenshot of Atlan's google like search

Google like search. Image by Atlan


Meanwhile, the detailed lineage maps and revision histories — updated in real-time — guarantee that your teams don’t duplicate efforts or work in silos.

Data catalogs also help you go through all the context you need at a glance with:

  • Comprehensive business glossaries and descriptions
  • Auto-generated data profiles
  • Quick quality reports
  • Capabilities such as chats, in-line annotations, discussions, and data sharing with a link

As a result, your teams collaborate efficiently, spend time on strategic tasks (rather than operational tasks like cleaning data) and finish their projects sooner.

Benefit #2 — Optimize data governance and business efficiency

Data governance involves managing data availability, integrity, usability, and security based on internal data standards and policies.

Data catalogs show what data assets an organization has and their locations. So, you know exactly where your data comes from and how it’s being stored.

As mentioned earlier, data catalogs track lineage or movement of data across an organization, which provides a reliable audit trail throughout that asset’s life cycle. This documents all the transformations a data asset has undergone and also the impact (if any) on related data sets.

detailed lineage map screenshot from Atlan

Automated Lineage via SQL Parsing. Image by Atlan


Data lineage also helps identify and mitigate the data risks. For example, you can set up alerts for anomalies in data sets with modern data catalogs. So, when you get an alert about outliers or inconsistencies in data, you can trace the data’s lifecycle to investigate the incident, weed out the root cause and fix it right away.

Modern data catalogs also enable granular access controls — role-based and asset-level permissions. So, each user can only access the data they need, which minimizes the risk of data leaks or breaches. According to a report from the Ponemon Institute, 71% of employees have access to data they should not see. With granular controls, you can regulate access, preserve data integrity and privacy, and democratize data.

screenshot showing data quality check

Visibility of data quality. Image by Atlan


Benefit #3 — Ensure consistent data quality

Data quality is essential for you to trust your data. However, data quality remains a major problem for most businesses.

One reason this has remained the case is the need for manual processes, which take a long time and are riddled with errors. A robust, automated modern data catalog automatically:

  • Scans source systems for new data, which means your data is always up-to-date
  • Generates data profiles automatically

screenshot showing auto profiling of data

Auto-generated data profile. Image by Atlan


  • Classifies data, especially sensitive PII data
  • Detects duplicates, anomalies, and inconsistencies in data with scheduled data quality checks

By constantly tracking data quality, a modern data catalog becomes the single, credible source of truth for a business.

Benefit #4 — Ensure regulatory compliance

The regulatory environment will continue to become more stringent with rapid digitization. Gartner predicts that 75% of the world will be covered under some kind of privacy law with built-in subject rights requests and consent by 2023.

That’s why data catalogs can be great data management tools for ensuring regulatory compliance. Here’s how that would work.

Modern data catalogs let you add tags to your metadata so that you can classify sensitive data automatically and regulate access to these assets with greater scrutiny.

screenshot showing auto classified PII data

Auto-classified PII data. Image by Atlan


So, your compliance officers can continuously track and monitor sensitive data to ensure that your data meets the regulatory requirements of standards such as CCPA, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR.

You can also address any irregularities or problems with sensitive data. For example, if sensitive data is located where it shouldn’t be, those in charge of compliance can address the issue by removing that data from the location and revisiting its access policies.

Benefit #5 — Reduce spending and unnecessary costs

Data catalogs optimize costs in two ways:

  1. The money and operating costs that you save from productivity gains
  2. The hefty fines you avoid by complying with regulatory standards

Referring back to one of our earlier examples, Jim and Pam would be more efficient with their time and deliver business insights faster. The productivity gains have a direct impact on minimizing operating costs.

Also as mentioned earlier, data catalogs are crucial in ensuring good governance and compliance with regulatory standards. So, you minimize exposing your data to risks such as data breaches and avoid getting hefty fines for non-compliance with data privacy laws.

For instance, the GDPR fines hit almost 1 billion euros in Q3 of 2021 — nearly 20 times higher than the fines from Q1 and Q2 combined. Better governance programs with modern data catalogs can help minimize such instances.

Conclusion

Let’s recap the key concepts we’ve covered.

Data catalogs are organized inventories of an organization’s data assets.

The benefits of a data catalog go beyond centralizing an organization’s data. They support your organization’s efforts in:

  • Data management
  • Data governance
  • Data quality
  • Regulatory compliance

By providing a central and searchable database of your data assets, modern data catalogs like Atlan improve business efficiency, reduce costs, and facilitate employee productivity. So, why don’t to take Atlan for a test drive today?


Benefits of data catalog: Related reads


Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels


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