Choosing Alation: Advice for Your Data Catalog Journey

By Carla Dissett

Published on May 23, 2023

As Mark Twain once said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” For leaders tasked with rolling out a new data governance program, getting started can feel like a daunting task. For one financial services organization, getting started took identifying key capabilities of their future data platform, tying those capabilities to business value, and working closely with the implementation team.

Carla Dissett has spent her career leading IT teams in achieving key business objectives at a range of companies, including enterprise financial services organizations.

While managing a team of application developers at one prominent financial services company, Dissett was tapped to lead its data management team. The company had migrated to cloud platforms like Snowflake and AWS, but hadn’t modernized how it managed its data, and it was looking for a solution in the face of increasing regulations from the FDIC.

“We had very valuable information but, unfortunately, most people didn’t know it existed, and those who did couldn’t access it,” recalls Dissett. “I set out to make the data visible because we were missing a huge opportunity.”

Dissett and team started by developing a homegrown data dictionary so data analysts, data scientists, and business users could search for data and filter the results. As interest and usage increased, it was clear the company needed a more robust solution. Enter Alation, which Dissett discovered at the Enterprise Data World (EDW) industry event.

“When I saw the capabilities of Alation, I said, ‘Oh, we need to have that!’” Dissett says. “There were so many capabilities, and that sparked our data catalog journey.”

Identifying 5 Critical Requirements

Alation was a compelling solution Dissett wanted to explore. To better understand and communicate how a data catalog would help the company (and how it would be used) Dissett narrowed her focus to 5 key Alation capabilities that deliver meaningful business value:

1. Auto Discovery

Auto discovery enabled the team to understand when data objects were being added or modified prior to going to production without relying on a manual alert, or worse, finding out after the fact that a new addition didn’t match the data models.

2. Popularity

Popularity provides insights into who’s using the data and how, as well as what objects aren’t being used. The latter presents an opportunity to deprecate or archive data, removing it from circulation and reducing risk (while shrinking costs).

3. Auto Titling

Auto titling ensures standard names, conventions, business terms, and abbreviations are used consistently. Alation also saves data users’ time with its AI-powered Business Glossary that automatically suggests business terms based on your preloaded lexicon; it identifies stewards and subject matter experts based on usage patterns, and incorporates crowdsourcing and collaboration features.

4. Central Search Language

Central search language supports intelligent natural language search, freeing data citizens from using (or learning) complex abbreviations. Admins can then accept or reject the suggestions, which also helps improve future searches.

5. Object Certification and Depreciation

Object certification and depreciation involves human curation of data. Documenting the data upfront, early, when the work is being done, creates reusable data objects that can be certified and iterated on as needed. This activity alone improves data literacy, quality, and the return on our investment by eliminating rework.

With those and many other boxes ticked by Alation, Dissett and her organization moved forward with what was, apparently, an easy implementation.

“When Alation tells you it’s an easy install, it really is an easy install,” Dissett says. “We didn’t want to spin up a whole new team, and we’re not server managers. We wanted something we could support. Combined with my top-5 list, that’s why we went with Alation.”

Finding More Value Along the Way

Dissett adds that selecting Alation was just the beginning of the company’s data intelligence and governance journey. It’s an evolving process, she says, one that requires a lot of communication, executive support, and the early involvement of the impacted teams.

“You’re asking people to change their behaviors, and that takes a little more strategy,” adds Dissett. “You’re building relationships, getting support, recognizing that different stakeholders sometimes have very different priorities and goals. While this part can be challenging it was also an exciting time as we knew we were bringing a lot of capability to the organization. Everybody who got involved was excited about it.”

For the stewards, SMEs, and data consumers, Dissett points to Alation data domains as a huge time-saver. Data domains elevate data above categories for easier access to needed data via more relevant search results, intuitive browsing, and efficient curation. Domains can be created for unique business areas, use cases, regions, and more.

“Domains let data stewards manage things at a domain level rather than the thousands of places they’re mentioned,” explains Dissett. “That’s going to make their job a lot simpler. And, when they make a change, they don’t have to make it everywhere. They can just make it once.”

Why Alation

Years later, Dissett is confident Alation has delivered real and impactful value to the company. But, every company is different and there are choices when it comes to data catalogs. Dissett says much research went into the decision to select Alation, especially from industry gurus and analyst firms. Most importantly, she advises teams to pay attention to how the solution provider responds to questions, meets your needs, and walks the walk.

“We had a great relationship with the sales team, and the support team was really responsive,” Dissett concludes. “The Alation team is really interested in understanding what the customer needs. Their technology is modern and resilient. They prioritize the customer’s needs, they follow agile principles, and are able to move faster due to their modern architecture. They’re an agile company. The whole picture really made sense, and we know we’re not going to get left behind.”

Eager to discover more? Check out our Why Alation page to see why thousands of business and data leaders embrace Alation.

  • Identifying 5 Critical Requirements
  • Finding More Value Along the Way
  • Why Alation
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