In a world where analytics is fuelled by more data than ever before, it is often easy to lose track. Data silos can make life very difficult for businesses to move forward. Piling up a variety of systems and data sources in differing formats and refreshes may seem unavoidable.
When it comes to business efficiency, poor data accessibility can be a common pain. However, effective data integration promises to help businesses to keep running smoothly and advancing further.
What is Data Integration?
Before we consider how better data integration can help businesses run from day to day, we need to look at what integration of data actually means. Part of data management, data integration is about combining data from disparate sources whether internal or external data to transform into meaningful and valuable information. Put simply, data integration produces a single, unified view of a company’s data that a business intelligence application can access to provide actionable insights based on the entirety of the organisation’s data assets, no matter the original source or format.
Extract, Transform & Load (ETL) forms part of this process. As the name implies, ETL works by extracting data from its host environment, transforming it into some standardised format, and then loading it into a destination system like a data mart or data warehouse for use by applications running on that system.
Given that business analytics can cover hundreds of different variables, it can be challenging to balance everything at once. Therefore, business efficiency takes an immediate hit. When you could spend time acting on analytics and results, you may be wasting resources pulling the data together.
Who Can Help with Data Integration?
There are a variety of different platforms designed to source and combine data from different avenues so data can be used to understand business performance. The problem today is that businesses need access to information in real-time, which has implications for the IT teams in making data available and accessible to do this. Integration can not only help to improve business efficiency but can also help to fine-tune customer experiences.
Gartner’s 2019 Magic Quadrant Report for Data Integration tools give a good indication of where to start to select an appropriate data integration platform. Two platforms that Inside Info works with extensively, Microsoft and Qlik, were both cited as Challengers in this space. While Microsoft’s Data Platform is also recognised by Gartner as a Leader in data management and business analytics on the whole.
A well-designed data integration solution, such as Microsoft’s SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) or Microsoft Azure’s Data Factory in the cloud are good examples of a modern data integration platform. They can automate data integration and allow the creation of blended datasets without manual coding or tuning. This provides connectivity between a wide variety of data sources. In fact, Azure Data Factory integrations data silos with a service built for all data integration needs and skill levels. ETL and ELT processes can be constructed code-free within an intuitive visual environment, or there’s also the ability to write your own code.
Benefits and Business Efficiency
It will likely already be obvious how data integration can benefit business efficiency. However, to fully understand how it affects productivity and delivery long-term, we need to drill a little deeper.
Data silos can significantly impact customers. If current data is not available on hand to help with urgent customer queries, you risk disappointment and worst still their business. Historically, data integration has often been performed in an ad hoc manner, usually manually. This can be a time consuming, difficult and error-prone. Inconsistencies in formatting, spelling mistakes, duplicates or naming conventions, often inhibit the reliability of data and the integration process.
By integrating old, previously inaccessible data with newer information, we can better predict future events. Businesses can struggle to make firm predictions as older data is unavailable. Integrating older information, with real-time access, allows firms to make quicker decisions. These decisions are firmer, more confident, and more accurate, too.
The Future of Data Management
Data integration needs to be proactive to seize business moments. Demand for data should be processed and the scale of events must match the speed at which the business operates. Many businesses fail to use analytics properly, or even make fatal errors, as a result of data siloing. As a result, it is evident that consolidating and streamlining information is going to save time, effort and even revenue.
More information on data integration, key trends and the leading vendors are available in the full Gartner 2019 Data Integration Magic Quadrant report, which you can download here.