It’s great to have a collection of big data, but it’s not much use if you can’t find specific pieces of data within it. That was the core insight driving Satyen Sangani and his company, Alation, to create the industry’s first widely adopted data catalog, and it’s the reason why Sangani is one of Datanami’s People to Watch for 2022.
Sangani was kind enough to answer a few questions on the importance of data catalogs in a big data world, the intersection of catalogs and data governance, and what’s coming next from Alation.
Datanami: Alation is credited with popularizing the concept of a data catalog, and now you have lots of competitors. Why do you think data catalogs took off and became so popular?
Sangani: We all know that there’s a lot of data and that data is growing. Every day, organizations gather and store petabytes of data. Data on customers, buyer behavior, supply, inventory management, sales, customer service, etc. As the accumulation of data has exploded, so too has the demand to leverage it for decision making.
Data catalogs are the most critical part of the data intelligence stack because they help organizations understand the data that they can use and the data that they need to govern and manage. Data catalogs are the cornerstone of any effort to manage data because they help people find, understand and use data. You can’t figure out what data to analyze if you don’t have a catalog. You can’t determine the best data for an ML algorithm if you don’t know where your data is. You can’t administer a data governance initiative without understanding your data. So, data catalogs took off because they are fundamentally a better way to manage your data.
Datanami: Last year, Alation launched its first data governance application. What has been the reception of that offering, and what can we expect to see next?
Sangani: In 2020, 35% of our customers were using Alation for data governance and we increasingly saw customers start with data governance as a use case. It became clear we needed to amplify the experience. The Data Governance App, released in 2021, automates many tedious and time-consuming data governance tasks.
Our approach was built on three principles:
1) continuous improvement;
2) autonomous operation; and
3) end-to-end performance management.
The response from the industry exceeded our expectations because we massively simplified what you needed to do to get a successful data governance initiative off the ground.
We’re not done improving that experience. You should expect us to invest in even further levels of control, integration, simplification, and automation. Per most industry analysts, we already have the best current offering in the market. We expect to continue to drive customer value by building on this foundation.
Datanami: What aspects of data are people struggling with the most now, and how do you see Alation stepping in to help them?
People and organizations still struggle with driving data literacy and building a data culture more generally. When an enterprise has more data literate employees, leadership understands that data is no longer just the domain of the data team. No matter a person’s role, data can help drive more impactful business decisions. An organization with more data literate employees can better serve its end customers and will outpace competitors. Alation plays a pivotal role in data literacy programs by enabling people to search & discover the right data, understand what it means, and how to use it.
The pandemic forced organizations into fully remote work environments. This meant that many employees could not as easily connect with each other to share insights on data they were working on. With the pandemic still in force, many organizations continue to maintain a hybrid work environment, and technology leaders are tasked with transforming how work is done. Companies need to make insights and data accessible to all knowledge workers, not just those with technical backgrounds. Alation enables all data users to find and understand the data they need and know if it’s trustworthy
Datanami: Outside of the professional sphere, what can you share about yourself that your colleagues might be surprised to learn – any unique hobbies or stories?
I wouldn’t have started Alation without a push from my wife. She realized that I was an entrepreneur before I did. Before starting the company, I dabbled in a variety of career paths ranging from being an economist, volunteering in an orphanage, being an investment banker, working in business development, and being a product manager. So, it took me a while to figure out that I wanted to be a founder. That said, I think all of that variety helped me prepare to be a better leader.
One of the hard things about being a founder is the level of intense focus you have to apply over years. Recently, I’ve started a podcast called Data Radicals which you can find on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. It’s all about learning from individuals ranging from academics to practitioners on how to build a data culture. The work has been super fun because I get to meet all of these new super insightful people and I’m also honing my interviewing skills. It’s been a great experience.
To read more interviews with the People to Watch for 2022, click here.