Better decision making with a modern data catalog

Finnair wanted to improve data literacy skills and managing of the airline’s vast data assets. Solita helped Finnair in two ways: through evaluating available modern data catalog tools, and by facilitating the adoption of the Alation data catalog tool within the organization. With a data catalog, Finnair has a better understanding of their data assets, resulting in faster time to insight, more qualified decision making – and a connected data community.


  • Modern data catalog solution to manage huge amounts of customer, operational and financial data
  • Better understanding of company wide data assets and how they are utilized for business value
  • Faster time to insight
  • More qualified decision making
  • Creating a thriving data community
  • Driving change by increasing visibility, collaboration and discussion throughout the whole organization

Data is key in creating an excellent customer experience

More than 80 airplanes, 13 million travelers, over 100 thousand flights a year and hundreds of people working with data. The amount of data airline operations produce is immense. Finnair is no newbie in the world of data; it has a long history of making the most of it.

The reputation as one of the world’s most reliable airlines and the winning customer experience Finnair has been rewarded for several times, is not a result of just good business instinct.

“Using data to provide efficient and optimized operations and serving our customers is critical for us. Data and analytics play a key role in our daily work, from marketing to customer service and from ground operations to flight operations,” says Minna Kärhä, Head of Data, Finnair.

Evolving technologies, new data sources, and people producing, utilizing and working with data, means effective governance of data assets is essential.

Data catalog releases the full potential of Finnair’s data assets

As many other organizations, the need for a data catalog tool arose in Finnair as a result of a new data strategy. Key components were identified – clear visibility of the data inventory as well as a common, collaborative and secure platform for data analytics work.

“The new data platform we are building enables collaborative data and analytics work, supporting traditional BI as well as machine learning and real-time analytics. As it allows working with data sets that were not brought together before, a deeper understanding was needed to make it possible for a data scientist to truly explore and use data sets they didn’t have access to before. In order to be able to manage data truly as an asset, we need to have company-wide visibility into our current inventory and how it is utilized for business value,” Minna Kärhä tells.

Renewing the technology for processing and storing data is an excellent place to pause for re-evaluation of documentation and governing policies.

“In order to be able to manage data truly as an asset, we need to have company-wide visibility into our current inventory and how it is utilized for business value.”Minna Kärhä, Head of Data, Finnair

From finding the right tool to facilitated implementation

With the help of Solita, Finnair decided to evaluate different data catalog tools. Two products were chosen for the proof of concept (PoC) phase. This allowed evaluation of two leading software candidates and technical suitability; it also enabled testing of data catalog solutions to ensure the benefits expressed in the business case were achievable.

The technology and business case evaluation proved positive, and Alation turned out to be the best choice for Finnair’s case thanks to its automated documentation features, community supporting tools and intuitiveness – it was easy to take into use without having extensive trainings beforehand.

PoC was immediately followed by a Solita-facilitated implementation phase. In just four months, the way of working and the tool base for building Finnair’s data catalog was established.

“Templates for data documentation, data-related roles and definition of done for datasets were defined. The prioritized use cases with people working with them were onboarded. To help the facilitation process, data catalog ambassadors from each analytics team were appointed as part of the core team,” Minna Kärhä adds.

"To help the facilitation process, data catalog ambassadors from each analytics team were appointed as part of the core team.”Minna Kärhä, Head of Data, Finnair

Flexibility and agility to meet changing needs

As the implementation phase was planned to be agile, some strategic changes were also made during it. It was discovered that documenting the recognized use cases wasn’t enough; an overview of all Finnair data was needed. Thus, all the existing data sets and sources were listed in the catalog, meaning the catalog now serves also as a tool to communicate the data platform development roadmap.

“On top of this, another useful sidetrack was to have data delivery SLAs documented in the data catalog as part of the data set documentation. The Alation tool was also flexible enough to allow these creative ways of using it,” Minna Kärhä says.

After Solita’s onboarding project, Finnair continues to develop the data catalog tool with appointed analytics ambassadors and an in-house product owner.

“Our next steps include using the data catalog also as a tool to help us move data from legacy data warehouse to the new data platform. Data catalog serves as an excellent tool in the transition; we can communicate the roadmap as well as make the data understandable for the data team working with the transition. For an organization with numerous data sources, legacy technology and an on-going transition process, a technology agnostic tool is in place,” Minna Kärhä explains.

Connecting Finnair BI tools to the data catalog is also on the horizon.

“We are planning to make our dashboards in PowerBi and Cognos visible via the data catalog: then we will have one place where data can be searched and all existing information found, whether it is in forms of database, data sets in data platform, dashboards or documents,” Minna Kärhä sums up.

Data catalog is a tool to drive change

Documenting data is just one part of implementing a data catalog tool. While the Alation tool makes the documentation process flow smoothly, getting the data documented at an optimum level requires motivation and a determination to improve data literacy.

“We have commitment and willingness to create content and keep the catalog up-to-date from several teams. For example, our analysts feel they also benefit from keeping the information fresh. This effort requires commitment from all data workers. We work closely on a daily basis with key stakeholders across the organization to build a network that then can support the change management and the transformation,” Minna Kärhä says.

The true value in adopting a data catalog tool is derived from the change it enacts within an organization. Cataloging data assets inevitably changes the way the organization works; it forces to rethink how data assets are cared for and governed. At its best, it forces collaboration, discussion and builds shared principles, processes and roles. It breaks through the business unit silos that so many data utilizing organizations still struggle with. A data catalog makes the data community and their work visible.

“With a data catalog, we can better understand and analyze how our data is used within Finnair. The analytical features in Alation provide us visibility over, for example, what articles are the most read,” Minna Kärhä sums up.

Interested? Contact us

Tuomas Ylikoski

Business Lead, Account Director

[email protected]

+358 50 3415 852