What is Active Metadata & Why it Matters: Key Insights from Gartner’s Market Guide

By Jason Rushin

Published on March 2, 2023

Group gathered around a conference table in an office setting with their laptops, cellphones, tablets, and sticky paper taking notes while discussing what is active metadata and why it matters.

We were promised jetpacks. Instead, we got data. Lots and lots of data. Well, we got jetpacks, too, but we rarely interact with them during the workday. It does feel, however, as if we need jet-like speed to analyze and understand our data, who is using it, how it is used, and if it is being used to drive value.

With lots of data comes yet more calls for automation, optimization, and productivity initiatives to put that data to good use. This is because simply collecting data leaves it open to misinterpretation, misuse, and decay. By contrast, continuously analyzing data ensures consumers can find, understand, and appropriately use the right data. Analysis, however, requires enterprises to find and collect metadata. This data about data is valuable. It tells users which assets are most popular, how they’re used, properly governed, powerfully combined, and much more.

In fact, Gartner’s “Market Guide for Active Metadata Management” points to “active metadata management” as the key to continuous data analysis – which supports smarter human usage and more valuable insights.

Active metadata management enhances typical metadata management, which is becoming “increasingly incapable” of fulfilling enterprise metadata requirements, according to Gartner. Organizations now need metadata tools like a modern data catalog to capture and analyze this enhanced metadata that includes information on data usage, data affinities, and user behaviors.

Download Gartner’s “Market Guide for Active Metadata Management” to learn more, or read on for a summary of the firm’s outlook.

What Is Active Metadata Management?

Active metadata management enables continuous access to, and analysis of, metadata across an organization’s data stack of users, systems, and data governance tools. The analysis is then used to build recommendations based on the business outcomes achieved. In other words, active metadata management closes the gap between data as designed and data as actually used.

When an enterprise continuously monitors how data is used, it can then improve and accelerate data-driven business outcomes. That is of obvious importance to enterprises, and many are investing in active metadata management. In the market guide, Gartner predicts that adopting aggressive metadata analysis tools and techniques will “decrease time to delivery of new data assets to users by as much as 70%.”

Metadata Must Be Comprehensive and Shared

Finding, collecting, and understanding metadata remains a challenge for most enterprises. Gartner’s metadata management technology maturity model shows a data catalog is fundamental to facilitating active metadata management; this is because a data catalog serves not only as a metadata repository, but as a tool for management and collaboration. Modern data catalogs can capture critical context from metadata and put it into action with help from AI, ML, and automations.

But how do you capture metadata from a growing stack of sources? And, how do you get insights into the hands of data consumers working in various roles and around the globe? Gartner says “openness will become mandatory” to unleash the value of metadata.

Gartner’s Market Guide Figure 1: Metadata Management Technology Maturity

Openness is at the heart of Alation Data Catalog, which centralizes technical, operational, business, and behavioral metadata from across the modern data stack, including solutions like Fivetran, dbt, Snowflake, Databricks, and more. The Alation Open Data Quality Initiative expands that value by adding instant access to data trustworthiness from various data quality vendors, while the Alation Open Connector Framework accelerates the development of connectors to new data solutions. Alation Anywhere then gets that critical information to users where they are, in the tools where they work, such as Slack and Tableau.

Metadata Value Increases With Usage

To drive real value, active metadata management needs the combination of comprehensive metadata, meaningful analysis, and easy access (with governance guidance) to create said value. But, most critically, humans need to use the right information at the right time, in the right context. Activating metadata in a data catalog provides this critical connective tissue, guiding users to more robust understanding, informed analysis, and valuable insights.

  • What Is Active Metadata Management?
  • Metadata Must Be Comprehensive and Shared
  • Metadata Value Increases With Usage
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