Data Catalogs & Government Analytics

Data Catalogs & Government Analytics

Imagine walking into a grocery store and discovering that all the food is stored in unmarked cardboard boxes. You know that the boxes contain food, but you have no idea where the flour is or where the canned goods could be. Sure, the ingredients you need to bake a cake are in the grocery store, but you’ll be spending all day finding them.

When government organizations launch cross-agency data analytics programs, they often find themselves in the same position. They begin creating a shared repository of data from across the organization, but then realize that they lack the information they need to properly inventory data and put it into context for their users. A data catalog can solve this problem.

According to a recent Gartner survey of IT and business leaders, inventorying siloed data assets is critical and is the biggest challenge for data management teams.

What is a Data Catalog?

A data catalog is an inventory of an organization’s data assets. It serves as a comprehensive repository of data and its metadata.

A properly created data catalog makes data more usable. With the appropriate access, users can see all available assets and in-depth documentation of that data, making self-service analytics fast and easy and reducing reliance on IT or data stewards.

Metadata and the Data Catalog

A data catalog is a form of metadata management. Metadata is essentially “data about data,” the information about data’s characteristics and its relation to other data. The metadata captured in the data catalog is determined by what the organization considers most important, i.e. the characteristics of the data that are critical to a specific use case.

Metadata might include:

  • Archiving requirements so organizations can track data and maintain compliance with specific policies
  • Source information for accurate citation by research users
  • Business rules or constraints of data
  • Information about data reliability or data accuracy
  • The field level of specific data, its place within a data hierarchy, and how that data relates to other field levels

The Value of a Data Catalog in Government Analytics

Data catalogs are particularly important within government analytics initiatives, since data is often brought together from many disparate sources and accessed by users with very different objectives – data scientists, data engineers, policy makers, and sometimes the public. These users need context to understand the meaning of the data and how it can be used.

By documenting the most important aspects of each data set, data catalogs allow users to spend more time on analysis and less time tracking down the right data. They can also easily see the relationships and similarities between data, which lead to deeper insights.

However, a data catalog’s value dissipates if it is not aligned with a broader data analytics strategy. Start with the business use cases, not the technology, to understand which data assets and metadata characteristics are the highest priorities. Once the data catalog is live, solicit feedback from users about their experience so that the catalog can be continuously optimized.

Voyatek worked with the United States Energy Information Administration to establish a robust metadata management capability that included data from nearly 100 survey instruments collecting information on the state of the energy industry around the world.

To learn more about optimizing the impact of your data analytics program, contact us or download our latest white papers