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What Is a Data Catalog and Why Is It Important?

November 6, 2018 No Comments

Featured article by Susan Melony, Independent Technology Author

A lot of organizations want to say they’re centered on data, but without a data catalog that’s not necessarily true.

So what exactly is a data catalog, for organizations new to the concept?

“This invaluable tool enables different types of datasets and sources to be cataloged in place, and the metadata gathered and organized into a single repository,” according to Mahesh Gandhe of Unifi.

What Is a Data Catalog?

In very simple terms, a data catalog is a way that companies can streamline their data, make information more easily findable and accessible and also make that data reusable.

The idea of a data catalog has been especially relevant to technology and biomedical industries. The NIH recently introduced the New Models of Data Stewardship (NMDS) program, with the goal of creating a single biomedical research data ecosystem.

With a data catalog, it becomes possible for any user to use sources of data. Users can also contribute their information to a data catalog. So what else should organizations know about a data catalog?

Buying a Data Catalog

There are new and easy-to-use data reporting tools available now more than ever before. There is a constantly growing amount of available data as well, largely thanks to digital processes, IoT and cloud-based apps.

Organizations have the option to take advantages of all of these sources of data by buying a data catalog.

Buying a data catalog can be especially helpful in the face of changes regarding data compliance.

When an organization decides to buy a data catalog or utilize one, they can derive the most value from informational assets.

Benefits of a Data Catalog

Unifi lays out some of the ways a data catalog is important, particularly within the framework of the NIH’s requirements.

One of the benefits of a data catalog as highlighted by Unifi is the ability to search the system in different ways. For example, for medical researchers, they can ask questions about a certain disease and receive information that way. At the same time, other search features use natural language processing.

Accessibility is another benefit of a data catalog. There is a constant need to balance data security and protection along with the ability for it to be used as necessary. A data catalog can bring these two objectives together.

There’s also a term frequently used which describes the third advantage well—interoperable. This means that siloed databases are eliminated. A data catalog can help promote a sense of collaboration and pave the way for efficient and effective sharing of data.

Data is also cataloged so that it can be used for different purposes. The information is highly reusable when it’s stored in a catalog.

Putting all this together, organizations should think about the difficulty they have when they need to source data. They might not know where it’s located or how to get to where they need to be. A big majority of many people’s jobs’ is dedicated to trying to uncover existing data. That means they’re not actually doing the analytics aspect as much as they could be.


Having tight control over data but at the same time being compliant with regulations is no easy feat. That’s something most organizations have realized, but they still struggle with balancing the two, which was briefly touched on above.

There are often one of two scenarios which can occur with data. In one scenario only a select few people in the organization have access to it. In the second, everyone has access, and while accessibility is then no longer an issue, compliance and control are.

Data catalogs often integrate with an organization’s existing security infrastructure for a sense of accessibility and control.

It’s likely that laws and regulations related to data are only going to continue to evolve and grow, and there will be more for organizations to do and keep up with. Most organizations that utilize or work with data in any way are going to have to be smart and proactive when it comes to being compliant.

As you’re looking for data catalogs for your organization, what specific features should you consider? While every organization’s needs might be slightly unique, consider AI-supported data asset collection and data crawling, as well as the ability to catalog data sources in place. Look for search mechanisms powered by AI and automated object indexing.

Other worthwhile data catalog features include collaboration support so that you can tag products and also share objects with others using the platform and integrate data catalogs and data preparation features.





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