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Buyer's Guide
Metadata Management
July 2022
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John Gilbert - PeerSpot reviewer
Data Governance Manager at Cbus
Real User
Top 20
The catalog now provides an opportunity for people to come together, to share, and to find
Pros and Cons
  • "Given the relatively low level of maturity, Alation's most relevant feature at the moment is a user interface that's easy to navigate, which helps us find and understand the data. So while Alation has a lot more functionality, our pain point right now is being able to easily find, understand, and trust the information to use it."
  • "Alation Data Catalog doesn't support end-to-end lineage. By that, I mean the ability to trace the movement of data from when it first comes into our organization to where it's consumed."

What is our primary use case?

We're a superannuation organization, so we deal with people's pensions. We invest their money for retirement. Our users are mostly core data management professionals, including business analysts, data analysts, architects, engineers, and BI developers. There's also a handful of consumers who view content. 

We're working with a range of stakeholders and data sources, and we haven't covered all of the organization yet. But most of the key ones are embedded into the tool. We've built up the catalog through agile iterations or sprints. We're working with the business to understand the information, curate it, and embed that knowledge into Alation Data Catalog so that it's available to those people to support their data use cases.

How has it helped my organization?

We had no data catalog beforehand, but we're coming from a very mature environment. Before we had the data catalog, there was no mechanism for users to quickly find data, understand it, share their insights, or collaborate with others. It was very much a siloed approach. If we wanted some data, we just had to rely on people who had some knowledge to point us in a direction. 

We had no idea whether that was enough to support our need and didn't know if there was something else out there in the organization that might be better suited. It was very immature. The catalog now provides an opportunity for people to come together, to share, to find. We had nothing before, so we can't compare anything we used before with what we've got now, but what we've got now is infinitely better.

We capture metrics at two levels. One is to monitor the health of the catalog. That's more for our purposes to ensure that the information we're publishing is of good quality and aligns with what the users need. There are several metrics that we developed primarily to determine how healthy the catalog is and how close we conform to our own standards.

The other set of metrics is used to measure adoption: how many people are using it or the number of new users over time. And we see that growing and growing. It's probably not at the level that we'd like. It doesn't cover all of our stakeholders, but we're getting there. So we're measuring adoption, the number of users, the number of times people are coming back to the catalog, and the number of times they've contributed. When I say "contributing," I mean conversations, developing articles, suggesting areas of improvement, etc. We measure how much they interact with the catalog.

I can't say it reduced our workload. Our workload has increased because we need to get the catalog to a state where BAU can manage itself. There's an awful lot of work that my team is doing to get it to the point where we can relax and focus on other things, but we knew that going in. We knew we had to invest a significant amount of effort to reach a point where the catalog could produce some business value. It's increased our workload, but it's necessary. In another three to six months, we'll be at a point where the changes will be more BAU rather than development or implementation.

I wouldn't say that it helps us deliver our product faster either. Our products are superannuation services. Product analysts use the catalog to understand the markets and the channels they should be targeting, whether it brings a product or service to life quicker. I don't know, but our product team responsible for product management certainly uses the catalog more for insights.

Alation Data Catalog has also helped in terms of compliance and data governance. At data access points, it minimizes the risk of people developing their own repositories and using those repositories for unauthorized purposes. It's more helpful for operational efficiency, leveraging other people's knowledge, and reducing the risk of decisions based on low-quality or unsuitable data.

Our compliance team didn't use the catalog that much. Their focus is ensuring we have appropriate controls and those controls are complied with. They're not heavy data users, as such. They make sure the data users are using the catalog according to various policies and standards. However, it is helping the data consumers understand what data they're accessing, particularly around privacy.

In addition to finding the data, they can also see who owns that data or who knows about that data. It provides guidance in terms of its sensitivity. There's a confidentiality classification in there that provides policies, directions, or guidelines on handling information at different levels of classification. 

What is most valuable?

Given the relatively low level of maturity, Alation's most relevant feature at the moment is a user interface that's easy to navigate, which helps us find and understand the data. So while Alation has a lot more functionality, our pain point right now is being able to easily find, understand, and trust the information to use it. As our user base grows accustomed to the tool and their capabilities increase, we'll be able to use things like lineage, visualizations, and stuff like that. We have a plan that covers a couple of years, but right now we're just concentrating on just being able to support their critical needs.

We're not using the Alation data governance app at all yet, but we're interested in it. I think it only came out in 2021.3. At the time, it was only limited to Snowflake, and we don't have Snowflake in our organization. So we're waiting for it to mature and grow to a point where we can actually start using it, but we're still interested in its capabilities. I think it could help out in data governance across our tech stack.

The Alation Data Catalog allows users across or organization to efficiently search for and discover data regardless of their location, but we haven't opened it up to the whole organization. We've just focused on those data consumers who work with data every day because it's their job to produce reports, drive insights, etc. So there are our heavy users, and there are other users who look at our dashboard once a month. We haven't really opened it up to those users yet. We will eventually, but we're just focusing on those critical data consumers at this stage.

What needs improvement?

Alation Data Catalog doesn't support end-to-end lineage. By that, I mean the ability to trace the movement of data from when it first comes into our organization to where it's consumed. Along the way, the data is stored in different places, transformed, aggregated, etc. The journey can be quite a long one from the perspective of a single piece of data, so we needed to track the lineage, and it didn't work as expected. It worked in parts, but it wasn't end-to-end. And we've had to rely on some workarounds to overcome some issues and still not where we want it to be. We understand that there's a lot of functionality coming up that we'll just have to wait for.

When we purchased the tool, we knew that Alation was innovating and would be releasing new features and functionality every quarter. We were more excited than we would be about a stable product that puts out one update per year. And we knew we would find areas where Data Catalog either couldn't support a use case or we had to do a workaround. That has been the case, but Alation has been fairly quick to show us where these fixes or features will come out on their product roadmap. 

We've only had to rely on them a couple of times to provide workarounds for alternative solutions or options. However, that might be more tactical in nature rather than getting to what we want to do. There have been points where we haven't been able to do exactly what we want to do, but we've always been able to work around these issues or wait until the features have been made available.

That lineage would be an excellent example where it didn't support our requirements out of the box from day one. But it's been a journey where we've understood what they've released, how it worked, what doesn't work, what's coming up, and when we'll be able to kick that off again.

For how long have I used the solution?

We started in April of 2020, so we've been using Alation for about a year and a half now.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Alation's stability has been fantastic. We've never had an issue with it going down. It's obviously maintained from an infrastructure point of view. Alation has monitoring and alerts. We do version upgrades every quarter, and so we have to restart it after that. But we've never had any issues with reliability.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

In terms of how extensively we plan to use Data Catalog, we're only about halfway there. We're deliberately focused on some critical use cases, but there are others out there. For example, there are our finance and investment teams. We've still got to plug them to a certain degree. I'd say half of the staff is using Data Catalog now. The journey has still at least another year to go to get us across the organization to a point where I can tick it off and say, "Job well done."

How are customer service and support?

I rate Alation support nine out of 10. I've had no issues with them, and they've always been able to assist us. They're innovating at a high rate, so we've had several technical problems where we've had to ask questions about the APIs and various other technical things. They've always been reasonably quick to get back to us with solutions or workarounds.

The documentation is also excellent. The only tricky part has been the time zones because we've got some tech folks here in Australia and some in America. It's a matter of just fitting the time zones to get answers. They're timely in their response, though. I've never really had to have conversations with a client manager about the performance of their tech support.

How would you rate customer service and support?

Positive

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We had a bad experience with another catalog from a different vendor called Talend Data Catalog. They were partners offering data integration tools, and they acquired a data catalog. Since the data catalog came with it, we thought we'd try it first. We had a six-month trial or prototype, but it didn't support many of our use cases at all. It was frustrating, so we decided not to implement that part of their suite, and we went back to the market again. 

The experience gave us a lot of insight into what we needed from a data catalog. At first, we took it at face value that it would work. The second time, we researched the Gartner analysis of the types of vendors, functionality, and scoring on the assessment template.

How was the initial setup?

Data Catalog's initial setup was pretty straightforward. With our three-year license, we also purchased the Right Start program, Alation's program to help clients get up and running quickly. It's a hand-holding exercise over several weeks, and we have to do it remotely, which adds to the challenge. Next, we stepped through the various processes to prepare for installation. There's the installation, configuration, and getting our first couple of use cases working. 

In total, it was about a three-month process. It's a planned program of work that takes us through different things and gets us to a point where we can prove that the software works in our technology environment. That was very important, and it gave us a bit of an insight into how easy it is to navigate, configure, and set the tool up. It is easy to work with and navigate compared to some of our other tools. It was pretty seamless. 

It took more than a quarter, but I didn't mind that. If you get someone there full-time working with it eight hours a day, it's easier. It took longer than it would have taken pre-COVID because we were working remotely across different time zones, and their tech team is in America. But we didn't mind that because it gave us time to sit, think, play around, and research. We took our time doing it, but I think it was time well invested.

We set the expectations that the first six months to a year was really about progress. And the benefits would follow that. So we were very keen not to say we were going to get help from day one.

Maintenance has two components. One is the actual infrastructure — the tech stuff — and our infrastructure team manages that. They're involved with version upgrades, monitoring, alerts, etc. We've got a group of dedicated people to manage all of the applications running on our AWS infrastructure. When we have our quarterly updates, it might take them a couple of days to maintain the software.

But my team handles the maintenance of the catalog itself, and we're working on it full time. Including myself, there are three people on the team. There's one guy full-time on it and another guy who works on it part-time across other tools as well. We've invested a lot of time getting it to that point. "Maintaining" is perhaps not the word. We're building it out. We're building it to the point where we can maintain it. I don't contribute that much other than planning, prioritization, decision-making, and things like that. And then, there are two other full-time staff members within data governance.  

What about the implementation team?

We had a long-term vision for implementation when we deployed Data Catalog. But we just needed to get the tool in place and play around with it before confirming what we could and couldn't do. We worked with Alation to determine the sequence and get to a point where we could move forward independently. That was important. We've relied on Alation's knowledge and experience to get us to a point where we could go live. We're moving forward on our own now, but we still work closely with Alation going forward when there are new features and functions.

What was our ROI?

We've undoubtedly seen some time savings. We haven't quantified it, and that's probably something I need to focus on. We'll know the exact quantitative benefit at some point, but it's probably saved us time. The analysts spend 80 percent of their time finding the data and 20 percent doing what they're supposed to do. That's been flipped, so finding the data takes 10 to 20 percent of their time, and 80 percent is devoted to analysis. 

I can only describe the benefits, but I can't quantify them. The other benefits include cost savings in terms of repositories. You no longer have to create your own data repository every time you need something, irrespective of whether others have it or whether you could work with something else. And there are obviously storage and retrieval costs there. Now, we're starting to decommission all of these repositories of data, which are being replaced with our authoritative sources or trusted copies of data. 

We're absolutely seeing a return, but we knew it would take time to get to that point. And we were clear on setting expectations, particularly regarding management. I think that's worked. That's allowed us breathing space to get us to a point where we can actually provide benefits. It's hard to quantify them at this point, but it's something we'll need to do. At some point, we're going to need to relicense. Our three-year license is up next year, and I'll have to convince the CFO that it's worth it.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

You've always got to understand Alation's pricing model because they have different models. Vendors have various models, and the difference is sometimes quite stark. You've got to understand what currency it's in. A three-year agreement is better than a one-year rolling 12-month agreement from a price point of view. I'd recommend looking at a three-year deal because you can't stand up a catalog and produce value in 12 months. It's going to take a significant amount of work to do that. So you've got to be in it for the long haul and I think most organizations are.

There's a discount, so you'll need to whittle away at them. Ask what their list price is, but figure out precisely what deals they can provide because some of them depend on the time of the year, I think. If you focus on the end of the financial year when they're trying to meet their targets, they might be more willing to extend the discounts. Early on in the financial year, you probably won't be so lucky. Timing is another thing as well. But I would recommend understanding the pricing models, what's in, what's out, and how they can discount it. 

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We did a quick scan of the market and limited it down to three. There were the market leaders Alation and Collibra, and then there was a local firm called Alex Solutions. We included them because they were local and just wanted to see what they had in the market. There were also several other solutions that our competitors were using. We got them in to do demos and whittled it down to Collibra and Alation. 

And through that selection criteria, we chose Alation. There were two reasons: cost and user interface. We thought the user interface was easier to navigate, and Alation came up with more significant cost reductions. While Collibra did reduce their price, they couldn't match Alation. 

Alation is easier to use from the perspective of the end-user. They've ensured that the user interface is intuitive, easy to use, and easy to understand, whereas the others come at it from a more technical point of view. They could be quite strong technically, but they might be very hard to use because they haven't focused on that user interface. Alation went the other way around. 

They're building out their technical capability, but I've thought they've always had a very good user interface. And coming from our low level of knowledge or maturity, it was critical that our business users could quickly use and trust a tool. Alation allowed them to do that. Collibra probably could have worked, but it was harder to navigate around, and we thought it wasn't quite so intuitive. So we went with Alation. 

What other advice do I have?

I rate Alation Data Catalog 10 out of 10. I've seen many other data catalogs, and I think Alation is better than all of them. My expectations have been met and exceeded. And they bring out new features and functions every quarter. I've never seen a tool like it. Vendors have been saying they've got end-to-end metadata management tools for years, but it's never been the case. This is a fantastic tool. It's easy to use and navigate. It can do just about anything that you want it to in our environment. I don't know what other technical environments are like and how complex they are, but I'd say it's getting better. 

However, I would caution against expecting benefits from day one. You talk to any sales rep for any tool — whether it's a BI tool or whatever — and they'll always say, "We'll be able to support all your needs within two to three weeks for whatever." I'd be cautious about thinking that Data Catalog can solve all your problems in a short time. It takes a while for new users to understand the breadth and depth of the features and functions, particularly around the machine-learning capabilities and things like that.

Prepare yourself because it's going to be a journey. Prepare yourself for Data Catalog to provide no apparent benefits for some period while you're getting used to the tool, getting it implemented, and building it up. You can't just install it, and it's there. You've got to install it and build up the content to be useful. Otherwise, people will look at it, think there's nothing in it, and they'll never come back to it again. 

So installing it, configuring it, and making it available might be a milestone for tech, but people don't get value immediately. And if they don't know what's in it for them, then they'll turn away. You're probably losing the overall battle if you like. Your success criteria are the amounts of people who use it, come back to it over and over again, and add to it themselves. You need to invest a lot of time before getting to the point where that is the case.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Hybrid Cloud

If public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud, which cloud provider do you use?

Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Disclosure: PeerSpot contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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Buyer's Guide
Metadata Management
July 2022
Get our free report covering Alation, Informatica, Collibra, and other competitors of Alex Solutions. Updated: July 2022.
621,327 professionals have used our research since 2012.