This article was originally published on digi.city. 

I find it interesting to visualize modern concepts in vintage ways. For example, as a boy growing up in Germany, I remember being in awe of the shelves filled with books at the Ramstein Library. Where did I start? I was this tiny kid presented with a mountain and endless tunnels filled with information and stories.

Enter the hero; The Librarian, who taught me how to use the card catalog and how to navigate the shelves in the best way to find the exact combination of books to satisfy my young mind. (Mostly books on King Arthur, if you’re curious.)

This is not unlike the struggle of modern organizations and cities. Data is everywhere and spread about in a way that can only be described as overwhelming. There is even data about data. (So meta.) Where do you begin? You need a hero.

This new shift to remote work has forced a realization around the world; we have to get smarter about how we are connected and how we can continue to operate our businesses, economies, and communities. In order to do so, there has to be a strategy at all levels around the indicators and behaviors of the citizenry and consumer.

The key question is ‘What does the data tell you about where to deploy resources?’  The first thing most organizations do is tap someone on the shoulder and dub them a knight. They armor up and go in search of a mountain of data via endless tunnels. They stand there like a kid in a library who doesn’t know where to start. This is where understanding the metadata (the data about your data) comes in.

One of the biggest challenges for the data world is that it is spread about in various departments or business units. It can seem impossible to get a handle on it at first. There is sensor data, traffic data, consumer spending data, census data; the list goes on and on. So, let’s start our knight off with something easy – understanding what data is where.

Cataloging metadata in a way that is agnostic to where this data lives is critical. Most organizations have various databases, systems, and a myriad of computers that each hold a treasure trove of pertinent data. Taking the first step to understand your metadata will most likely eliminate redundancies, increase discovery and encourage reusability of data for analytic use cases . In other words, catalog it like my hero, the librarian, did when I was a kid. That will tell you where to start answering business problems.

Having taken these steps, our knight, now atop their trusty steed (we’ll call it Data Catalog), can begin to answer a particular business question in a meaningful way. They can find the best combination of data in an efficient manner and get down to the true work of not simply reacting to circumstance and new problems, but finding ways to be proactive.

Remember that your quest is to anticipate needs in an agile way. So when it’s time to plan a city or business’s next move and you’re tapped on the shoulder with the question, “what does the data say?”, you can quickly find what you need and be the hero of the story.