what is a data catalog

What is a Data Catalog?

February 12, 2019

In 2017, Gartner declared data catalogs as “the new black in data management and analytics”. Now, they have become a MUST-HAVE solution for data leaders! In “Augmented Data Catalogs: Now an Enterprise Must-Have for Data and Analytics Leaders” they state:

“The demand for data catalogs is soaring as organizations continue to struggle with finding, inventorying and analyzing vastly distributed and diverse data assets.”

At Zeenea, we broadly define a data catalog as being:

“A detailed inventory of all data assets in an organization and their metadata, designed to help data professionals quickly find the most appropriate data for any analytical business purpose.” 

Key takeaways


Why a Data Catalog?

Topics on data are still considered to be an extremely technical domain. However, data innovation is only possible if it is shared by as many people as possible. The profession must have the autonomy to access data to measure, start, or optimize a product or service. To innovate requires a certain flexibility and agility, which is, still to this day, scarcely present in organizations.

Democratize data knowledge!

This is the very reason for data catalogs: to allow your employees to find the data they need via one easy-to-use platform above data systems. Data catalogs don’t require technical expertise to actually discover what is new and seize opportunities.

Business analysts, data scientists, as well as business teams become autonomous in data exploration. As for CDOs and data stewards, they are finally equipped to build data governance, evangelizing a data-driven culture within their organizations.

>> Why does data culture matter? Webinar replay

What are the purposes of a Data Catalog?

A data catalog allows you to acquire a business and technical views of data stored in data sources. It centralizes and unifies information collected so that they can be shared with IT teams and business functions and then connected to the enterprise’s tools. This unified view of data allows you to:

Build Agile Data Governance

A connected data catalog enables you to curate the data directly retrieved from your enterprise’s IS. This way, your organization starts creating an understandable & reliable data asset landscape via a centralized platform. We believe in a bottom up approach where your assets’ global knowledge should be the starting point of your data governance, instead of deploying overly complex processes too difficult to maintain on assumed information. On top of this knowledge allowed by a driven data catalog, the organization would open step by step, with a retroactive loop, the creation of roles, processes and access to the data..

> Why start agile data governance? Free white paper 

agile data governance white paper

Start a metadata management

A data catalog enables you to create a technical and business metadata directory. They enable metadata synchronization with data sources and enforce documentation by your data teams (by your data owners, data stewards, users and so on), ultimately maintaining a powerful and reliable data asset landscape at the enterprise level over time.

> Read our white paper about metadata management


Sustain a data culture

A data catalog becomes the reference data tool for all employees. As its interface does not require technical expertise to discover and understand the data, the knowledge of the data assets is no longer limited to a group of experts. It also allows your organization to better collaborate on those assets and work on them in a simple way.  At Zeenea, we consider that a data catalog is a cornerstone to build a powerful data democracy

> Read our white paper about Data democracy 

Accelerate data discovery

As thousands of datasets and assets are being created each day, enterprises find themselves struggling to understand and gain insights from their information to create value. Many recent surveys still state that data science teams spend 80% of their time preparing and tidying their data instead of analyzing and reporting it. By deploying a data catalog in your organization, the speed of data discovery can increase up to 5 times.  So your data teams can focus on what’s important: delivering their data projects on time.

> Read our white paper about Data Discovery through the eyes of Web Giants


What are the key features of a Data Catalog?

Metadata registry

For each element, this metadata registry can include a business and technical description, the owners, and quality indicators or also create a taxonomy (properties, tags, etc.).


Search Engine

All collected metadata in the registry is requestable from the data catalog’s search engine. The searches can be sorted, filtered at all levels.


Data lineage and processing registry

Thanks to data lineage, it is possible to visualize in whole the origin and the transformations of one specific data over time. This allows you to understand where the data originate from, when and where they separate and fuse with other data.

These transformations and treatments carried out by the data are in this way repositories in what we call a registry of treatments, indispensable in responding to the expectations of the GDPR and other upcoming data regulations.


Collaborative functions

In a user-centric approach, a data catalog is the reference data tool of an enterprise. It allows data to be visualized as an asset and to work in a transparent manner on it. To share, to assign, to comment, to qualify inside the tool itself to increase the productivity and the knowledge amongst all the collaborators.


Personal Information detection / enriched documentation  

With machine learning and artificial intelligence, a data catalog is able to detect sensitive data directly within our platform and when new data is imported into it. A data catalog is able to monitor data activity and warn data stewards in case of problems.

What are a Data Catalog’s use cases? And for whom?

For Chief Data Officers

Learn more about Chief Data Officers >

The Chief Data Officer plays a key role in the overall data strategy of an enterprise; their purpose is to master their data and facilitate their access in order to become data-driven. A data catalog helps them :

  • Ensure data reliability and value
  • Create a data literate organization 
  • Valorize a data set’s context for data explorers
  • Evangelize a data culture with rights and duties
  • Start a compliance process with the European regulation (GDPR).

For Data Stewards

Learn more about Data Stewards >

Known as the main contact for data inquiries thanks to their technical and operational knowledge, the Data Steward is most commonly nicknamed the “Master of data”! A data catalog enables data stewards to:

  • Centralize data knowledge in a single platform
  • Enrich data documentation
  • Establish communication between them and data explorers
  • Qualify the value of data.
  • Start metadata management

> Learn more about our data catalog for data managers: Zeenea Studio


For Data Scientists 

A data scientist’s missions are, among others, to develop predictive models, to make data understandable and exploitable for the enterprise’s top management, and build machine learning algorithms.

To achieve their missions, collaborators must be able to determine what data is available, which ones they really need, understand the data (context and quality), and finally know how to retrieve them! A data catalog helps them:

  • Easily find data, regardless of where they are stored.
  • View the history of the data sets: date of creation and the actions carried out on it.
  • Understand the professional context of data.
  • Identify the knowers by data set.
  • Easily collaborate with peers.
  • Create automated documentation through my actions within the data catalog.
  • Recommendation of relevant data in relation to other consulted data sets.

> Learn more about our data catalog for data teams: Zeenea Explorer


A representative data catalog journey

It’s a fact that data catalogs are an essential brick in any organization’s data strategy, and this for a reason. A data catalog becomes extremely handy in the different phases of your projects:

A data catalog in the deployment phase

Connect to your data sources

A data catalog plugs to all your data sources. Connect your data integration, data preparation, data visualization, CRM solutions, etc in order to fully integrate all your technologies into a single source of truth. 

View our connectors

A data catalog in the documentation phase

Create a metamodel

A data catalog captures and updates technical and operation metadata from an enterprise’s data sources.  It allows you to add and configure – at the hand of the data catalog’s administrator –  or overlay information (information that can be mandatory or not) on its cataloged datasets. This additional information is called properties! This contextual information is mainly referred to business and operational documentation.

Build your metamodel template

A data catalog in the discovery phase

Understand your data

With a data catalog, your data citizens – with technical capabilities or not – are able to fully understand their enterprise data. A data catalog allows users to have access to and easily search for any information within the catalog. 

Define your data

A data catalog allows data leaders, such as data stewards or chief data officers, to correctly define the pertinent data to be used. Through metadata, data managers can easily document their datasets, allowing their data teams to access contextualized data. 

Explore your data

Discover and collect available data in a data catalog. By cataloguing all enterprise data in a central repository, data citizens are able to ensure that their data is reliable and usable.

A data catalog in the collaboration phase

Communicate with data

A data catalog allows users to become data fluent. Both the IT & business departments are able to understand and communicate around different data projects. Through collaborative features such as discussions, data becomes a topic for all to share across the enterprise. 

The key takeaways of a data catalog

Now that we know everything about data catalogs, there are three main takeaways to keep in mind that data catalogs do to for your enterprise:  

Maximize the value of data

By collecting all the data of an enterprise on a reference data tool, it becomes possible to cross-reference these assets and get value from them more easily. The collaboration of technical and professional teams within the data catalog enables innovations that meet proven market needs.

Produce better and faster

Your teams have confirmed it: more than 70% of the dedicated time to data analysis is invested in “data quarrels” activities. Cataloging simplifies data retrieval, the identification of knowers, and therefore, intelligent decision-making.

Ensure good control over data

Misinterpreted or erroneous, enterprises expose themselves to the risk of basing their decision on incorrect information. Connected data catalogs permit access to always up-to-date data. Data users can ensure that data and their information are correct and usable.

> Download our white paper: Why do you need a data catalog to be data centric?

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At Zeenea, we work hard to create a data fluent world by providing our customers with the tools and services that allow enterprises to be data driven.

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Chez Zeenea, notre objectif est de créer un monde “data fluent” en proposant à nos clients une plateforme et des services permettant aux entreprises de devenir data-driven.

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