What is a semantic layer? As told by a non-technical product leader.

Gabi Steele and Leah Weiss
Gabi Steele and Leah Weiss

What’s a semantic layer? While I certainly have heard the term before, I never truly tried to understand what it was and why it was important to me.

But wait, I’m jumping ahead, let me introduce myself first. Hi, I’m Helena, and I’m the Head of Product at Preql. I’ve been a Product Manager for more years than I’d like to count, and have been a consumer of data throughout that time. But, I’ve never been incredibly data savvy and consistently relied on someone else to write SQL for the business questions I asked.

That’s actually the reason I came to Preql. I was tired of wasting my data analyst’s time to help me add a better filter to my Tableau dashboard, or worse, exporting a bunch of raw data myself into Google Sheets and writing 18 VLOOKUPs to try to transform and clean up the data… only to later be told by leadership that my numbers can’t be trusted and I really need to work with the data team (despite their limited bandwidth).

I mean sure, I can take an SQL course and invest in coding skills, but my time is much better spent on visions, strategies, roadmaps, and getting features out the door to happy users. And regardless, if my numbers don’t match what the rest of the company is showing, does it even matter? Numbers never match. Preql comes to solve all of that, by providing a no-code semantic layer that makes governed metrics accessible to everyone, whether you’re an enterprise solution with a full blown data team, a 10 person startup, or anything in between.

So, back to the original question, what’s a semantic layer, and more importantly, how does it help me create better products? A semantic layer is an abstraction layer creating usable metrics by encoding business logic. Basically, it translates complex data into a more understandable format. Think of it as a bridge between technical data structures (databases and SQL) and the business users who need to analyze the output of that data but don’t have the technical expertise, basically, me!

There are many reasons why a semantic layer is so critical but these are my top two:

  1. It reduces dependencies on data people, and finally delivers on the promise that data can be self-service/accessible to all without requiring back and forth between business users and data teams
  2. It ensures that the numbers match by establishing a central source of understanding of all data definitions. That also reduces the risk of misinterpretations, errors (like those you get from VLOOKUPs) and puts an end to all the lengthy convos about “how did you get to that number?”

TL;DR — a semantic layer empowers organizations to make data-driven decisions more autonomously, accurately, and efficiently. This is a game-changer for companies where data is crucial but not everyone is a data expert.

So now that we both know what a semantic layer is and how it can help transform your business, be sure to check out Preql.com and see how we can make data available for everyone!