What is a Data Catalog? Overview and Top Tools to Know

Intro to Data Catalogs

A data catalog is an inventory of all of an organization’s data assets. A data catalog includes assets like machine learning models, structured data, unstructured data, data reports, and more. By leveraging data management tools, data analysts, data scientists, and other data users can search through the catalog, find the organizational data they need, and access it.

Governance of data assets in a data catalog is enabled through metadata. The metadata is used for mapping, describing, tagging, and organizing the data assets. As a result, it can be leveraged to enable data consumers to efficiently search through assets and get information on how to use the data. Metadata can also be used for augmenting data management, by enabling onboarding automation, anomalies alerts, auto-scaling, and more.
In addition to indexing the assets, a data catalog usually includes data access and data searching capabilities, as well as tools for enriching the metadata, both manually and automatically. It also provides capabilities for ensuring compliance with privacy regulations and security standards.
In modern organizations, data catalogs have become essential for leveraging the large amounts of data generated. Efficient data analysis and consumption can help organizations make better decisions, so they can optimize operations, build better models, increase sales, and more.

Data Catalog Benefits (Why Do You Need a Data Catalog?)

A data catalog provides multiple benefits to data professionals, business analysts, and organizations. These include:

User Autonomy

Data professionals and other data consumers can find data, evaluate it and understand how to use it – all on their own. With a data catalog, they no longer have to rely on IT or other professional personnel. Instead, they can immediately search for the data they need and use it. This speed and independence enable injecting data into more business operations. It also improves employee morale.

Improved Data Context and Quality

The metadata and comments on the data from other data citizens can help data consumers better understand how to use it. This additional information creates context and improves the data quality and encourages data usage, innovation, and more new business ideas.

Organizational Efficiency

Accessible data reduces operational friction and bottlenecks, like back and forth emails, which optimizes the use of organizational resources. Available data also accelerates internal processes. When data consumers get the data and understand how to use it faster, data analysis and implementation take place faster as well, benefiting the business.

Compliance and Security

Data catalogs that ensure data assets comply with privacy standards and security regulations, and reduce the risks of data breaches, cyberattacks, or legal fiascos.

New Business Opportunities

By giving data citizens new information they can incorporate into their work and decision-making, they will find new ways to answer work challenges and achieve their business goals. This can open up new business opportunities, across all departments.

Better Decision Making

Lack of data visibility makes organizations rely on tribal knowledge, rely on data they are already familiar with, or recreate assets that already exist. This creates organizational data silos, which impede productivity. Enabling data access to everyone improves the ability to find and use data consistently and continuously across the organization.

What Does a Data Catalog Contain?

Different data catalogs offer somewhat different features. However, to enable data governance and advanced analysis, they should all provide the following to data consumers:


Technical Metadata

The data that describes the structure of the objects, like tables, schemas, columns, rows, file names, etc.

Business Metadata

Data about the business value of the data, like its purpose, compliance info, rating, classification, etc.

Process Metadata

Data about the asset creation process and lineage, like who changed it and when, permissions, latest update time, etc.

Search Capabilities

Searching, browsing, and filtering options to enable data consumers to easily find the relevant data assets.

Metadata Enrichment

The ability to automatically enrich metadata through mappings and connections, as well as letting data citizens manually contribute to the metadata.

Compliance Capabilities

Embedded capabilities that ensure data can be trusted and no sensitive data is exposed. This is important for complying with regulations, standards, and policies.

Asset Connectivity

The ability to connect to and automatically map all types of data sources your organization uses, at the locations they reside at.

In addition, in technologically advanced and enterprise data catalogs, AI and machine learning are implemented.

Data Catalog Use Cases

Data catalogs can and should be consumed by all people in the organization. Some popular use cases include:

  • Optimizing the data pipeline
  • Data lake modernization
  • Self-service analytics
  • Cloud spend management
  • Advanced analytics
  • Reducing fraud risk
  • Compliance audits
  • And more

Who Uses a Data Catalog?

A data catalog can be used by data-savvy citizens, like data analysts, data scientists and data engineers. But all business employees – product, marketing, sales, customer success, etc – can work with data and benefit from a data catalog. Data catalogs are managed by data stewards.

Top 10 Data Catalog Tools

Here are the top 10 data catalog tools according to G2, as of Q1 2022:

1. AWS

  • Product Name: AWS Glue
  • Product Description: AWS Glue is a serverless data integration service for discovering, preparing, and combining data for analytics, machine learning and application development. Data engineers and ETL developers can visually create, run, and monitor ETL workflows. Data analysts and data scientists can enrich, clean, and normalize data without writing code. Application developers can use familiar Structured Query Language (SQL) to combine and replicate data across different data stores.

2. Aginity

  • Product NameAginity
  • Product Description: Aginity provides a SQL coding solution for data analysts, data engineers, and data scientists so they can find, manage, govern, share and re-use SQL rather than recode it.

3. Alation

  • Product Name: Alation Data Catalog
  • Product Description: ​​Alation’s data catalog indexes a wide variety of data sources, including relational databases, cloud data lakes, and file systems using machine learning. Alation enables company-wide access to data and also surfaces recommendations, flags, and policies as data consumers query in a built-in SQL editor or search using natural language. Alation connects to a wide range of popular data sources and BI tools through APIs and an Open Connector SDK to streamline analytics.

4. Collibra

  • Product Name: Collibra Data Catalog
  • Product Description: Collibra ensures teams can quickly find, understand and access data across sources, business applications, BI, and data science tools in one central location. Features include out-of-the-box integrations for common data sources, business applications, BI and data science tools; machine learning-powered automation capabilities; automated relationship mapping; and data governance and privacy capabilities.

5. IBM

  • Product NameIBM Watson Knowledge Catalog
  • Product Description:  A data catalog tool based on self-service discovery of data, models and more. The cloud-based enterprise metadata repository activates information for AI, machine learning (ML), and deep learning. IBM’s data catalog enables stakeholders to access, curate, categorize and share data, knowledge assets and their relationships, wherever they reside.

6. Appen

  • Product NameAppen
  • Product Description: Appen provides a licensable data annotation platform for training data use cases in computer vision and natural language processing. In order to create training data, Appen collects and labels images, text, speech, audio, video, and other data. Its Smart Labeling and Pre-Labeling features that use Machine Learning ease human annotations.

7. Denodo

  • Product NameDenodo
  • Product Description: Denodo provides data virtualization that enables access to the cloud, big data, and unstructured data sources in their original repositories. Denodo enables the building of customized data models for customers and supports multiple viewing formats.

8. Oracle

  • Product NameOracle Enterprise Metadata Management 
  • Product Description: Oracle Enterprise Metadata Management harvests metadata from Oracle and third-party data integrations, business intelligence, ETL, big data, database, and data warehousing technologies. It enables business reporting, versioning, and comparison of metadata models, metadata search and browsing, and data lineage and impact analysis reports.

9. Unifi

  • Product NameUnifi Data Catalog
  • Product Description: A standalone Data Catalog with intuitive natural language search powered by AI, collaboration capabilities for crowd-sourced data quality, views of trusted data, and all fully governed by IT. The Unifi Data Catalog offers data source cataloging, search and discovery capabilities throughout all data locations and structures, auto-generated recommendations to view and explore data sets and similar data sets, integration to catalog Tableau metadata, and the ability to deconstruct TWBX files and see the full lineage of a data source to see how data sets were transformed.

10. BMC

  • Product NameCatalog Manager for IMS
  • Product Description: A system database that stores metadata about databases and applications. Catalog Manager for IMS enables viewing IMS catalog content, reporting on the control block information in the IMS catalog, and creating jobs to do DBDGENs, PSBGENs, and ACBGENs to populate the catalog.

Data Lakes and Data Catalogs

A data catalog can organize and govern data that reside in repositories, data lakes, data warehouses, or other locations. A data catalog can help organize the unstructured data in the data lake, preventing it from turning into a “data swamp”. As a result, data scientists and data analysts can easily pull data from the lake, evaluate it and use it.

A Data Catalog and Databand

Databand is a proactive observability platform for monitoring and controlling data quality, as early as ingestion. By integrating Databand with your data catalog, you can gain extended lineage, and visualize and observe the data from its source and as it flows through the pipelines all the way to the assets the data catalog maps and governs. As a result, data scientists, engineers and other data professionals can see and understand the complete flow of data, end-to-end.

In addition, by integrating Databand with your data catalog, you can get proactive alerts any time your data quality is affected to increase governance and robustness. This is enabled through Databand’s data quality identification capabilities, combined with how data catalogs map assets to owners. Databand will communicate any data quality issues to the relevant data owners.