Why You Need a Data Catalog – the Secret to Unlocking Your Data’s Potential

A data catalog is like having a GPS tracker on every piece of information in your company. Learn how cataloging data works, all the best practices, and the most popular data catalog tools.

Data catalog best practices

Mona Rakibe

November 29, 2023

All the data assets in your organization should be searchable. If not, who set up your data catalog? Wait, you don’t even have a data catalog?

There’s this amazing tool that turns data chaos into clarity and you won’t believe how much it simplifies data management.

You really need a data catalog

A data catalog is an organized, searchable directory that systematically indexes and describes your organization’s data assets. You’ll never play hide and seek with your data again. It’s like having a GPS for every piece of information in your company.

At their core, data catalogs come with three killer features:

  1. They store and display metadata – think of it as a dating profile for each data set. This metadata can include information like where the data came from, who has used it, and how it’s been altered over time. It’s like having a personal history for every piece of data.
  2. A sophisticated search engine – imagine being able to find data using natural language queries, or filtering through your data assets just as easily as you’d sort through playlists on your favorite music app.
  3. Collaboration features – allow users to comment, tag, and even rate data sets; it’s like a social media platform for your data.

Think of unorganized data like buried treasure without a treasure map. There’s immense value hidden within, but without a data catalog, it remains just out of reach, untapped and underappreciated.

How to catalog data

While every data catalog tool (we’ll get to the tools next) is a little different, the process for cataloging data generally follows these five steps:

  1. Begin by identifying all your data sources. It’s like playing detective in your own organization. Check under every digital “rock” – databases, cloud storage, that forgotten server from the early 2000s.
  2. Connect the data sources to your data catalog tool. Ensure each data source is properly linked so that the catalog can access and index the data.
  3. Gather metadata for each data set. Think of it as writing a mini-biography for your data. Where did it come from? What does it like to eat? (Just kidding, but you get the idea.)
  4. Setup access controls. Who’s on the VIP list? Think of it as bouncer duties for your data party.
  5. Regularly update your catalog. Data evolves, and so should your catalog. It’s like keeping your friends’ phone numbers up to date; nobody wants to call a number you’ve had since high school and reach a wrong number.

Some further data cataloging best practices you should follow so you don’t have to learn them the hard way:


  • Ensure your team knows how to use the catalog. You don’t want to build a library and have no librarians.
  • Integrate and automate. Where possible, integrate your catalog with other systems. If it can be automated, do it. Your future self will thank you.


  • Silo your data. Keeping data in silos instead of connected with the data catalog is like having a communal fridge but everyone brings their own locked lunchbox. Share the goodies!
  • Ignore data governance. Manage permissions meticulously to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Overcomplicate things. A data catalog crammed with excessive details and overcomplicated categorizations can leave users bewildered.

Quick intro to various data catalog tools

Each of the widely used data catalogs below offer unique features to transform how your company handles its data assets.

Data Catalog ToolWhat Makes it Unique
GCP Data CatalogOffers seamless integration with Google Cloud Platform services, with capabilities to include external data sources too.
Azure PurviewThe best if you’re deep into Microsoft’s Azure ecosystem, provides robust data governance and discovery features.
CollibraStands out for its strong data governance and compliance features, catering to complex organizational needs.
Informatica Enterprise Data CatalogRenowned for combining AI-driven discovery and recommendations with rich metadata management.
PentahoUnmatched data management capabilities for IoT and industrial data.
AtlanPrides itself on a user-friendly interface and strong collaboration tools for modern data teams.
AWS Glue Data CatalogTightly integrated with AWS services, offering a serverless data cataloging and ETL solution.
Databricks Unity CatalogUnique for its native integration with the Databricks platform, offering unified data governance.
Data.worldExcels in enabling data collaboration and connection with a strong emphasis on community-driven data sharing. Works well with Snowflake.
OCI Data CatalogOracle Cloud Infrastructure Data Catalog specializes in automated metadata management within Oracle’s ecosystem.
AlationKnown for its machine learning-driven data catalog, enhancing search and discovery of data assets.
Ab InitioOffers high-performance data processing and integration capabilities for enterprise-scale data management.
TalendStands out for its powerful open-source and cloud data integration solutions, along with strong data quality tools.

Data Catalog vs. Its Cousins

A data catalog is a more advanced tool than a data dictionary and goes beyond mere metadata management. These three concepts are often confused for one another. Here’s what you need to know to not get them twisted:

Data Catalog vs. Data Dictionary

Both data catalogs and data dictionaries are tools for understanding and organizing data. They provide crucial metadata that helps users and systems interpret and use data correctly. This shared focus on metadata is why they’re often thought of as closely related or even interchangeable.

However, their scope and functionality differ significantly. A data dictionary is usually limited to the confines of a single database or application. It’s static, primarily focused on structure and definitions. A data catalog, in contrast, is broader and more dynamic. It encompasses a wide range of data sources and types, offering a holistic view of an organization’s data ecosystem. It facilitates not just understanding of data, but is often powered by AI and machine learning, offering advanced search capabilities, recommendations, and even insights into data relationships and usage patterns.

Data Catalog vs. Metadata Management

A data catalog is about turning metadata into a tool for data discovery and usability. Metadata management, in contrast, is just creating and maintaining the metadata itself, ensuring it’s accurate, consistent, and useful across various systems. It’s a more foundational practice which then feeds into data dictionaries, data catalogs, and other systems.

There’s one other tool you should know about: Data Observability

Data catalogs rely on the quality of the data they index. If the underlying data quality is poor, a data catalog can become akin to a well-organized library filled with inaccurate or irrelevant books.

Enter data observability. Data observability tools provide real-time insights into the health of your data pipelines, alerting teams to issues like data downtime, pipeline failures, or integrity problems.

This pairing allows organizations not only to organize and understand their data but also to ensure its ongoing quality and reliability.

That’s why we built Telmai, the complete platform for secure monitoring across your entire data pipeline, with zero impact on pipeline performance.

So don’t let data issues derail your business decisions. Take the first step towards continuously monitoring your data pipelines by requesting a demo of Telmai today.

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