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What is a Data Catalog?

The core capabilities and must-have features that define a data catalog

One Place to Find, Understand, & Govern Data

A data catalog is a repository of metadata on information sources from across the enterprise, including data sets, business intelligence reports, visualizations, and conversations. Early on, data catalogs were primarily used to help analysts more quickly find and understand data. Increasingly, data catalogs are used to address a broad range of data intelligence solutions
including: analytics, data governance, privacy, and cloud transformation.

Core Capabilities of a Data Catalog




Core Capabilities of a Data Catalog Explained

Data search & discovery

Data catalogs make it easy to find relevant information within the huge volumes of enterprise data. Data search & discovery has long been a key capability of the data catalog, helping analysts and others find relevant data and answers, quickly.

Curation & governance

Data governance and curation help ensure analytics and insights are derived from the best, most trusted data. By applying governance at the point of data use, data catalogs help organizations avoid misuse of data and comply with organizational and regulatory policies.

Collaboration & analysis

Data catalogs help ensure that data stakeholders aren’t working in isolation. Through wiki-like articles, ratings, reviews, and conversations, a data catalog facilitates collaboration among an increasingly global and remote workforce.

Must-Have Features of a Data Catalog


Most data catalogs feature a search interface, enabling users to quickly find relevant information from across the enterprise. Some data catalogs go a step further by providing a natural language interface for search, empowering business users and others to search using their everyday language rather than coded terms.

Business glossary

A business glossary defines the key terms and concepts used by the enterprise. It serves as a common vocabulary for an organization, helping ensure the right terms are used, and used consistently, in any given situation. While business glossaries are a core feature of many data catalogs, not all are created equal. Some data catalogs go a step further by automatically suggesting new and popular business terms — helping scale efforts to populate the glossary.

Wiki-like articles

Wiki-like articles provide a place to capture tribal knowledge within the data catalog. They give subject matter experts and other contributors a place to describe data and dispense insights, ultimately providing data consumers valuable context about the data.

Data lineage

Some data catalogs offer data lineage — a visual representation of data flows that illustrates processes and transformations along the way. With data lineage, users understand the origins of data, who uses it, how it’s being used, and how it has changed over its lifecycle.

Metadata management

Metadata management is the core of a data catalog. It provides context and information for data assets stored across the enterprise by laying the foundations for describing, inventorying and understanding data for numerous use cases.

Data Catalogs Deliver Business Value

less time for analysts to complete a project
return on investment
total benefits present value

Reference: Forrester Total Economic Impact™ of Alation Data Catalog