What Is a Data Catalog?

5 minute read | 28 Jul 2022

By Ken Jaroenchisakon

You may have heard the term “data catalog” before, without really knowing what it means. What is a data catalog? In short, a data catalog is a complete inventory of data assets in an organization. It uses metadata to help data citizens — data engineers, data stewards, and data users — from different teams organize, secure, and find trustworthy data.

Companies today have vast amounts of data — somewhere. About 60% of the data is unknown or dormant, meaning it’s uncatalogued and inaccessible. All this missing or inaccessible data creates problems. It causes teams to make decisions based on incomplete or incorrect data. It results in business opportunities being overlooked. And it likely means that sensitive data protected by regulations such as GDPR or HIPAA isn’t getting the protection it deserves.

Getting all this data under control might seem like a Herculean effort. A data catalog makes it fast and manageable.

The Must-Haves

When evaluating which data catalog solution is right for you, take some time to ensure it contains these key capabilities:

  • Fully Managed Service—A cloud-based platform with no infrastructure to set up, manage, or maintain, so you can deploy more conveniently, keep costs to a minimum, and focus on the business values.
  • Intelligent Automation—Artificial intelligence (AI) drives scalability. Once data sources — whether they reside on on-premises, cloud, or hybrid environments — are connected, the engine automatically profiles and tags data assets, maps relationships, and finds data similarities.
  • Discovery and Collaboration—Finding data should be as easy as looking up things on the internet. Natural language processing (NLP) search enables data users to quickly find the data they need and understand it with a data dictionary and business glossaries. When questions arise, chatting with experts and peers is available all within the platform.
  • Governance and Security—More than 70% of employees have access to data they should not, according to research from Harvard Business Review. Personally identifiable information (PII) is automatically detected at a row and column level, and access to it is controlled with role-based permissions, staying compliant with internal policies and industry regulations.

Top Use Cases

  • Self-Service Analytics—Democratizing data has risen in popularity recently. Data in different systems and business knowledge are often siloed, fragmented, or spread across departments. Having a centralized portal, sometimes referred to as a data marketplace, where people can find, understand, and trust data — including master data — without IT intervention improves productivity and accelerates time to insights.
  • Data Governance—The key question for business and IT leaders today is how do we provide democratized access to data while also preventing data mismanagement? With a data catalog, data stewards can effectively ensure the right people have access to the right data at the right time based on their roles and established policies, especially around sensitive data.
  • Mergers and Acquisitions (and divestitures, too!)—Before two companies can operate as one and realize synergies, they must know what data exists and where it resides in order to know what to integrate. Having contextual understanding of all data assets simplifies IT systems integration, reduces liabilities associated with unknown sensitive data, and provides teams access to consistent data and institutional knowledge needed to drive deal values.


To put it simply, when data is trustworthy, properly governed, and easily accessible by everyone who needs it, the entire organization benefits.

  • Optimized operational efficiency—Improved data access and faster data discovery increases productivity and enables the business to make informed decisions.
  • Increased organizational trust—Finding data that has been highly rated and used by other users removes doubts around quality.
  • Reduced risks—Organizations can stay ahead of constantly changing regulatory, compliance, and audit issues with technologies that protect PII across data sources and enable role-based access controls.
  • Lower cost—A SaaS data catalog reduces resourcing and financial burdens as it requires no investments on infrastructure or maintenance.

With the right data catalog solution, business units and IT teams alike can create more values from the company’s most strategic asset — its data.

Learn more about Boomi Data Catalog (and Data Preparation too!).