Bridging the Gap Between Data Teams and Data Consumers with Atlan
The Active Metadata Pioneers series features Atlan customers who have recently completed a thorough evaluation of the Active Metadata Management market. Paying forward what you’ve learned to the next data leader is the true spirit of the Atlan community! So they’re here to share their hard-earned perspective on an evolving market, what makes up their modern data stack, innovative use cases for metadata, and more.
In this installment of the series, we meet Steven Bardouche, Data Governance Manager at Nelnet, who shares the story of his transition from Information Governance to Data Governance, how Atlan will be a key part of breaking down silos between technical and non-technical stakeholders, and what mattered most to he and his team as they evaluated, then selected a modern data catalog.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and what drew you to Data & Analytics?
I started my career in the data space almost nine years ago, working for our enterprise corporate division in Information Governance. Prior to my Data Governance role, I was focused on initiatives related to regulatory compliance, privacy, and enterprise risk.
I saw some of the challenges that the data teams that I worked alongside on compliance related projects would have about data. I would ask a question, “Why can’t we get this information?” and would learn “Oh, this requires these resources, and this lead time.” I just thought there had to be a more efficient way of finding the data we were looking for.
The most appealing part of working in data governance for me is also the most challenging, bringing structured order to complex challenges. Transitioning from an information governance focused role to one that I’m able to leverage my IG experience while also developing policies and implementing standards that improve the trustworthiness of our data is really exciting. Helping drive business by helping to answer questions through the clarity of our data assets. Those are fun challenges to help with, and that’s what pulled me to this side of the data team coin.
Would you mind describing Nelnet Business Services and your data team?
Nelnet Business Services (NBS) is an operating business segment within Nelnet Incorporated, which provides payment technology and community management solutions for K-12 schools, higher education institutions, churches, and businesses in the U.S. and internationally.
Data professionals at NBS support a variety of different business functions. We have a Core IT Data and Analytics team made up of Architects, Visualization Engineers, Data Scientists, and Data Engineers. We also have dedicated data professionals working outside that core team that support our clients in their specific markets. So if we have a set of products marketed to K-12 schools, we have specific data resources allocated to them, helping ensure clients get the most out of their products.
What does your data stack look like?
We ingest data from various sources, and we leverage a combination of acquired, developed, and commercially purchased products to consume data and bring it in. We use Snowflake as our warehousing tool, dbt for transformations, and PowerBI as the primary report builder and visualization layer.
Why search for an Active Metadata Management solution? What was missing?
I was looking for a solution that would allow us to maintain line of sight into our environment, and serve as a repository for both technical and business metadata to bridge silos. I knew we needed a tool that would bring separate teams of data professionals together in a way that wasn’t painful, and isn’t going to take years to learn how to use. It needed to be fully documented, and there needed to be a support community out there for it. And that’s really how Atlan started to separate itself from some of the other products that I did extensive proofs of concept on.
Why was Atlan a good fit? Did anything stand out during your evaluation process?
Our evaluation came down to Atlan and another vendor that’s been around for about a decade. Atlan’s intuitive UI was the biggest component for me, knowing that we were going to be able to easily adopt it and roll it out to technical and non-technical users, as well as delivering real value for our data teams in the short term.
It was ease-of-use, compared with other vendors which seemed to be overly complex and like they were trying to do too many things. We’d love to scale and be fully mature in all these different aspects, but taking a realistic approach, we need to bite off only as much as we can handle at a time in order to consistently add value.
Atlan appeared to put us in a position for success in getting a data catalog built, getting assets crawled in and lineage tracked so we could map and curate our environment and certify that data sources are trustworthy/healthy or needed attention. This is kind of a first step into the next part of our journey, which will be a more robust data quality solution, which we would look to integrate with Atlan.
So rather than implementing a solution that we knew we wouldn’t be able to realize the value of in the near term, we went with a solution we could get up and going within 90 days.
What do you intend on creating with Atlan? Do you have an idea of what use cases you’ll build, and the value you’ll drive?
An area that we’re building in the first 90 days is the concept of catalogs and terms and how that’s laid out across different categories. I’m looking at a series of glossaries, one to cover the basics of our business terminology, and another that relates to our products and services. We have around 60 unique products that we market to different customers, and depending on who you ask, we call them different things and have different documentation around them. Having a business term glossary, but also a products and services menu defining what each of these are, and being able to link that to the actual asset that’s crawled within Atlan is very exciting.
Another area we’re looking to leverage right away is Atlan’s lineage function. Data professionals from all different teams have expressed challenges around the time it takes to find and identify data at its source. Being able to offer a solution that gives them greater insight to help them be more effective will be extremely valuable.
Anything we missed?
I should mention the engagement process. I’ve brought on vendors and products before, and it’s always an interesting experience because it’s really based around personalities and relationships. I think the Altan sales approach was pretty solid, and I mean that in terms of responsiveness. It wasn’t only responding back to emails, but responding back with information that was actually helpful. When we had a question that required some input from a developer, or a team that worked on the other side of the world, we worked together to make sure our timelines aligned and made it happen. We had continuous conversations that increased both the confidence in the product and Atlan team.
The timeliness was always appreciated, too. Even if there wasn’t a known answer to our questions, there was always a response like, “Hey. Acknowledging that I got this. Working on it.” Again, this really helped build a sense of trust and if this is how the Sales team operates, then I can expect this or a very similar level of support if we went into a long-term relationship with Atlan. It’s been a good experience.