Data catalog project is not a technology project!

Minna Kärhä Business Lead, Data Driven Business , Solita

Published 12 Jun 2024

Reading time 5 min

Here are 5 do’s and don’ts

When comparing the successful and not-so-successful data catalog implementations, the difference is clear. The ones that have been full-blooded IT projects tend to fail in a few years’ time. The ones that are managed as transformation projects impacting the wider organisation are bound to succeed.

Why do IT-focused data catalog projects tend to fail?

Most of the data catalog projects I have been working on have been initiated by IT. Their aim is usually to improve data governance, to get a better grip on the data assets, or to boost the spread of self-service analytics capabilities with a data catalog tool. When Data Catalog is approached and managed as an IT project, it typically is seen as a new technical component that requires installation and setup, user licenses and training. In most IT development programs, the qualitative measure of business impact is not followed. The focus is purely on the quantitative measures such as meeting the schedule, number of onboarded users and amount of data sets scanned.

This results in failure because installing the tool and scanning the data assets is just the first base for metadata management. If the people in the organisation do not understand the value for them, they will not use the metadata provided and they will not keep it up to date (because there is no purpose to do so, as no-one is anyway using it).

Data catalog project is about empowering data consumers and data producers to collaborate

Instead of focusing on the quantitative IT measures, the focus should be on

  • Shifting the organisation culture and mindset towards data management, taking care of company data assets and treating data as a strategic asset. Where employees understand the value of discoverability and usability of data for them, in their work.
  • Empowering people by refining the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in creating, utilising, and taking care of data, to ensure usability, security, privacy and compliance.
  • Nurturing new kinds of collaboration across departments and teams to share knowledge, insights, and best practices related to data. Enabling cross-functional collaboration by bringing together people who know about data and people who need the information about data.
  • Enhancing data literacy and data utilisation skills, so that people who are curious about data are also able to utilise what they find. A data catalogue makes it possible to exchange knowledge, learn from other data users and find new data. It can also support data literacy by helping to form a shared language to talk about company data.

How can design thinking help to shift the focus from technology to impact?

The focus must be on the value the data catalog provides to the people who need the data: data consumers and people who provide the data: data producers. These are the critical groups of people in the organisation who impact whether the data catalog transformation is successful or not.

5 things to focus on for a successful data catalog that creates the desired impact.

1. You must solve the correct, real problems.

  • Do: Collect an understanding of different user groups’ needs (data stewards and custodians, data consumers and data producers) through interviews and hypothesis testing to understand what problem is worth solving for each of these groups, that the data catalog can help solve.
  • Don’t: Look at the needs of one group only. If you purely focus on the needs of let’s say Data Architects, who want to see the full data lineage, you will end up having only demand towards the data producers but no benefit for them.

2. Clear objectives show the value of the work

  • Do: Align the project goals with business objectives and user needs to ensure meaningful impact. Business value-driven objectives provide motivation for collaboration and shift the purpose of the work from technical implementation to strategic initiative.
  • Don’t: Manage the project in the IT project portfolio only, framing it as data governance technical project. It will not reach the interest of the people in the organisation, who will be needed to succeed in creating the desired impact.

3. Accept that you do not know exactly how to solve the problems from the beginning

  • Do: Utilise iterative prototyping and testing. Let the real users try the tool already early on. Preferably you could even start with something that does not require vast investments. A simple tool like Confluence or even Excel could do it first. It is more about understanding and adopting the new way of thinking and collaborating rather than learning to use state-of-the-art (and expensive) tools.
  • Don’t: Purchase expensive licenses upfront, based on desktop study only. Technical demo’s and pre-studys can provide valuable insight into the benefits and limitations of different tools but to learn what really fits the needs of your organisation requires co-development. Collaborative workshops and co-creation sessions foster creativity, innovation and learning together. This builds also a stronger foundation toward the new ways of working.

4. Make it visible and interesting!

  • Do: Increase awareness by marketing. Form an effective communication plan and stakeholder analysis. Create value proposition, vision statement and elevator pitch to spread the word and to manage the expectations of key stake holders. Identify the early adopters to create the necessary pull.
  • Don’t: Keep it to the core team only, who are involved with the work already.

5. Nurture the change when it starts to happen

  • Do: Provide the needed guidance using different means such as tutorials, user guides, and on-demand support resources to help users effectively leverage the data catalog’s capabilities. Emphasise ongoing communication and engagement to reinforce the value proposition of the data catalog and encourage active participation. Organise competitions, hackathons and other inspiring and engaging events.
  • Don’t: Close the project once the users are onboarded and the tool is set up, continuing the old ways of working.

Even if there already is a data catalog tool in place, it is not too late. We at Solita have helped several of our clients to design an approach that helps them to create the desired impact with their data catalog. Some of them have already had a data catalog tool, and some of them have been in the process of choosing one. This design approach is beneficial in any situation where the value of a data catalog tool is not meeting the organisation’s expectations. 

  1. Business
  2. Data