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When is a Catalog No Longer a Catalog?

By Andrew White | February 07, 2018 | 0 Comments

Information StewardshipInformation StewardInformation GovernanceData CatalogData and AnalyticsCatalogInformation Trust

When is a Catalog no longer a Catalog, and why does it matter?

I was on a vendor briefing in conjunction with data gathering for an upcoming publication: Market Guide for Information stewardship solutions (which are very different from traditional metadata management tools sold to IT.  These newer solutions are designed for business users (not IT) and they help those users solve data-centric issues that are holding decisions, business processes and outcomes hostage.  It’s a new category and it is very hard to convey to vendors what this is- especially since they have rarely ever experienced the business role or need.  Business users understand this very easily but they struggle to convey the requirements to vendors who are used to selling to IT, not business users.

Anyway, there I was.  The vendor in this case was demonstrating and extolling the value of their ‘data catalog’.  But the demo was anything but a data catalog.  After all, a catalog is a collection of stuff and yes this vendor sure has a clever engine that can help with (smartly) discovering where data is and structuring the kinds of data found.  But the vendor went further…

They talked of:

  • Monitoring tools to help users spot problems before they fester
  • Task management to help kick off and track who is clearing up what data issues
  • Policy tracking and compliance reporting
  • Audit trails that even I can understand telling me where the data has been and who last touched it
  • And so on

In fact, this vendor was demonstrating a passable information stewardship solution.  Yet they, and some Gartner analysts, still call this vendor a catalog vendor.   And that’s when a penny dropped.  I was suddenly aware of the important role we play in the market.

Yes, clients need new-fangled modern catalogs to find and organize data.  This serves a number of uses from analytics to governance.  But a catalog is like the easy part.  It’s like saying a car needs headlamps.  Of course they need headlamps, if you want to see in the dark.  Cataloging data just finds and structures the stuff – it does nothing to help assure trust in that data.

So the wider issue, applicable to every firm and organization, is how governing and stewarding data and analytics will change how that firm increases value from data and improve its decision making skills.  This goes beyond a catalog, or even trusted data or a ML-based analytic.  It requires a convergence of people, process (and app), data and analytics.

In this case, I found myself thinking:

  • This vendor markets itself as a  ‘catalog’ vendor and clients are looking for ‘catalogs’
  • This vendor can do a whole lot more but it is not signaling to the market it can.  Worse, clients are not yet asking for the next thing they actually can use
  • At the end of the day, how firm’s leverage information and, separately, technology (there is single thing as IT)  remains a near mystery to both the buyers, and the sellers!  How are they, buyers and sellers, meant to orchestrate their wares so that everyone wins?  This is the mating game in spades.

More broadly firms are much less able to demonstrate the value of their I&T investments.  At the macro level IT-based productivity is in the doldrums.  At the micro level,  firms at the global and national (technological) frontier (OECD-speak) are winning more and laggards are losing more. So what is a CIO, or a CEO, to do?

This is where we come in.  We play the unique role where we can spot what both buyer ought to be asking, and advise sellers what they should be messaging too.  But it’s a fine line.  In making such recommendations or offering such advice we are no longer industry watcher- we are industry participants.  At the same time there is great risk and responsibility.  What if we are wrong?  Is it more valuable (how is this measured?  Who recognizes this?) to just monitor and critique, or to advice and suggest?

It is rewarding to guess (analyse and conclude) right and it’s interesting to learn from errors and mistakes.  It’s a fun position to be in.  In fact I would not give it up for the world. I recommend it.

Now, back to the briefing…

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