In a haystack of data, Alation helps find the needle

One of the paradoxes of today’s data-driven world is that the very data we seek for competitive advantage can be both a curse and a blessing. Businesses need the right data to gain a leg up, but each new bit they acquire makes it harder to uncover the data they need.

That’s where Alation says it can help. The two-year-old startup came out of stealth mode on Tuesday with a new product focused on helping enterprises find the information that will help them get ahead.

“Every time we write a mobile app, build a Web application, write a data pipeline, build a dashboard or develop a sensor, we create a new container of data,” said Alation cofounder and CEO Satyen Sangani, a former Oracle executive. “All of these containers come with a lot of complexity, a lot of implicit knowledge. And this complexity, in turn, makes data inaccessible.”

Alation says its namesake platform can simplify data access and make it easier for organizations to get the insights they’re after. It offers collaborative analytics, data search and discovery, data optimization and effective data governance.

The technology taps a combination of machine learning and human insight to capture a wealth of information about an enterprise’s data, including what it describes, where it comes from, who’s using it and how it’s being used.

“Another way of understanding information is by looking at the human activity surrounding it,” Sangani explained. “Like Google, we crawl hundreds or thousands of data systems within an enterprise and look at not just the data but the usage logs.”

Equipped with that information, Alation generates a rich, centralized inventory of data—including details that might otherwise be visible only to machines—and can tell users the fastest way to find the right database, formulate a query, ask an expert or identify a best practice.

“If you want to answer a question, knowing that someone else has already asked it and then finding them can be much more efficient than rediscovering the answer all over again,” Sangani said. “We try to use the knowledge that’s already inside these systems to uncover hidden insights.”

Alation is used by companies including eBay and Square. The benefits, according to Alation, include a reduction in analyst on-boarding from years to months and the ability to write ad hoc queries in less than half the time that was required previously.

Alation took in $9 million in Series A funding earlier this year. Its software is available now.

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