Business Glossary Vs. Data Catalog: The Definitions, Differences, and Examples

March 15, 2022

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Business glossary vs data catalog — are they the same, if not, what is the difference.

The main difference between the two is that a business glossary provides context and organization around your data, while a data catalog creates an inventory around your data.

Data teams use business glossaries to define and contextualize data assets. They use data catalogs to find and access the right data instantaneously, without compromising data security or privacy.

Every data catalog should come equipped with a business glossary because data without context isn’t easy to use or analyze.


Key Features:

  • Business glossary explains the meaning of terms.
  • Data catalog is a detailed inventory of all the data assets.

Benefits:

  • Business glossary ensures everyone understands and speaks the same language.
  • Data catalog ensures everyone can search, discover, understand, and use the data instantaneously.

Differences:

  • Business glossary standardizes data-related vocabulary.
  • Data catalog enables discovery, lineage, governance, and collaboration.

Relationship:

  • Business glossary is one of the many data assets of a catalog. A glossary helps establish good governance and build trust.

In this article, we’ll further explore business glossary vs data catalog, starting with their definitions.

What is a business glossary?

Piotr Kononow, the CEO of Dateodo, defines a business glossary as a list of business terms with their definitions. These definitions add much-needed context to data, improving its quality and credibility. Cross-functional teams across the organization can refer to the business glossary to avoid asking questions like, “What does this field mean?”

A business glossary is especially handy in large companies with several lines of business, departments, and a wide variety of data. Each team could end up using different terms or interpret the same terminologies differently.

Here’s an example of how a business glossary gets rid of chaos around data definitions.

The U.S. Government has created a business glossary of typical health insurance terms. The glossary removes confusion between similar-sounding terms, such as Plan Year and Policy Year. While both terms refer to the period of benefits coverage, a Plan Year is for group insurance, whereas a Policy Year is for individuals.

What is the difference between a data dictionary and a data glossary? A data dictionary provides information about terms, components, data structures, and their interrelationships. Meanwhile, a data glossary contains just terms and their definitions.

To explore a business glossary in-depth, check out our comprehensive guide on business glossaries.

A typical business glossary template

Before looking at templates, here are the four steps you should follow to set up a useful business glossary:

  1. Identify and define terms and concepts across all lines of business
  2. Declare data categories and classify the business terms and concepts
  3. Identify the tools with the capabilities you need to build a business glossary
  4. Keep your business glossary updated in real-time (You can automate this step using a solution like Auto Glossary Suggestions.)

Now let’s look at some commonly used business glossary templates:

  • Definition-only: You make a list of the commonly used terms across your organization and add definitions. You keep adding new terms over time. Here’s an example — Glossary of Insurance Terms by NAIC.
  • Definition and metadata: This goes a step further as compared to the previous template. So, you add more information (i.e., context) to each term. This could include metadata, the relationship with other terms, and usage references, in addition to the term definitions. Here’s an example — FIBO Interest Group.
  • An all-encompassing solution: This template goes even further with context. So, besides the term’s definition and metadata, this solution also offers synonyms, antonyms, categories, classification types, linked assets, and much more.

Next, let’s explore data catalogs.

What is a data catalog?

A data catalog helps data professionals discover, understand, and consume data better.

Here’s how Gartner puts it:

A data catalog creates and maintains an inventory of data assets through the discovery, description and organization of distributed datasets. The data catalog provides context to enable data stewards, data/business analysts, data engineers, data scientists and other line of business (LOB) data consumers to find and understand relevant datasets for the purpose of extracting business value.

With a data catalog, you can organize, index, and regulate access of all data assets — with the context (metadata, classifications, and definitions) — for technical and business users alike.

Is a data catalog different from a data dictionary? Yes, because a data catalog contains information about all of your organization’s data assets and how they are used. A data dictionary only provides information about specific terms and their definitions. Here’s an article that you might find helpful.

What are the benefits of having a data catalog in an organization?

The main benefit of having an all-encompassing data catalog is that it helps the humans of data find whatever information they need quickly and effectively, without requiring any technical assistance.

Data catalogs also ensure better transparency across teams within an organization, so that everyone knows what data exists, where it came from, and how it’s getting used.

The evolution of a data catalog

Data catalogs have come a long way in the last couple of decades. Back in the 1990s, they were simply basic data inventories for passive data management. However, the modern data stack is fast, easy to scale (takes mere seconds), and requires little overhead.

Such a stack warrants self-serve, cloud-agnostic platforms built for:

  1. Active metadata management
  2. A central repository for all metadata
  3. Embedded collaboration
  4. Granular governance and access control
  5. An open, API architecture

Would you like to know more about modern data catalogs? Here’s a comprehensive guide on modern data catalogs.

Now let’s compare business glossary vs data catalog.

Business glossary vs data catalog: An overview

Both the modern data catalog and business glossary revolve around helping you understand data. That’s where the similarities end.

A business glossary tends to reference specific vocabulary (words) so that everyone in an organization speaks the same language.

Whereas, a data catalog is more of an all-encompassing infrastructure for metadata that:

  1. Enables discussions around data for better context
  2. Integrates with the rest of the tech stack
  3. Acts as a central place to search, discover, understand, and extract value from data

Here’s a quick comparison table to help you out.


Business glossary vs data catalog: Summary of key differences

Business GlossaryData Catalog
Key featuresA business glossary explains the meaning of individual terms.A data catalog is a detailed inventory of all data assets in an organization. Think of it as an “Index” of all your data.
Top benefitsIt ensures that everyone speaks the same language across an organization, avoiding miscommunication or chaos.It ensures that everyone (with the right credentials) can search, discover, understand, and use the data they need instantaneously. This improves the credibility and value of data, minimizes data risks, and guarantees regulatory compliance.
Key differencesIt standardizes the data-related vocabulary used in an organization with definitions.It goes beyond a business glossary and provides all the context you need — metadata, data classification, discussions, data quality charts, associated data assets, and lineage. Also, it enables and regulates access at granular levels.
RelationshipIt’s a prerequisite for good governance and helps make data catalogs more effective.A business glossary is just one of the many features of data catalogs.


In the real world: Think business glossary + data catalog instead of business glossary vs. data catalog.

Both business glossaries and data catalogs are essential for your business. They’re also interdependent as they need each other to provide you with a complete solution for data discovery and access.

So, a business glossary is a part of a data catalog. Data catalogs help you find data assets, collaborate, and share data. With a glossary, they also help you understand key data management terms and stop asking questions like, “what does this data asset mean?” or “what does Y in this report stand for?”


If you’re looking for a solution, it’s best to stop comparing business glossary vs data catalog. Instead, we recommend you explore a platform that provides you with both capabilities so that you can leverage the complete potential of your modern data stack.

Are you looking for an intelligent business glossary solution? See the demo

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Everything you need to know about modern data catalogs

Adopting a modern data catalog is the first step towards data discovery. In this guide, we explore the evolution of the data management ecosystem, the challenges created by traditional data catalog solutions, and what an ideal, modern-day data catalog should look like. Download now!