Businesses have long relied on insights to deliver efficiency into daily operations. Even the legacy storefronts outside of farm communities in the industrial age had to know the weather and crop yields to inform what inventory they needed to keep stocked.
The same is true for modern operations, except now, consumers elicit information from mobile devices, websites, emails, social media, intake forms, and surveys. This causes a bit of a challenge when so much data is available from many sources. All that data must be captured, cleaned, organized, and then interpreted so businesses can gain valuable insight to impact future decision-making.
This ability to utilize information from consumers, processes, machines, internal operations, and more is enabled through data integration tools.
What is Data Integration?
Data fuels the capabilities of businesses to achieve KPIs and company goals. Data integration is when data elements are captured in data models across the various digital tools, sources, and innovations into an easy-to-manage platform.
When you think about something as common as retail e-commerce businesses, there are digital tools for capturing customer data, tracking sales, optimizing inventory management, marketing and advertising, and security features. With data integration, these tools and sources can be combined into a single system so users can quickly evaluate the status of their online business and make critical decisions about what to do next.
Most of the time, these data integration tools use APIs (application programming interfaces) to communicate with one another. That is because not all digital tools are plug-and-play. Instead, they have unique systems built by various teams and need a “bridge” to communicate between one another.
However, when these systems are unified, they create a clear dashboard where the target user can quickly assess visual data. By using data integration tools, businesses can achieve new levels of efficiency. This has opened up new areas of capabilities in today’s marketplace.
What is the Role of Data Integration in Modern Business?
A modern business needs to have flexibility in all aspects of the operation. Not only does this mean responding to rapid changes in the current marketplace, but also has the ability to quickly scale whenever necessary.
Marketing is an excellent example of needing data integration. Many modern businesses leverage the features of a CRM (customer relationship management) system to better collect, track, and adapt to the needs of current clients. This data tool stores all sorts of valuable information and insights into what type of customer makes a purchase considers possibly buying or walks away from a potential sale.
Data integration is essential because it can combine the data collected through the aspects of the CRM used by a business with current email marketing efforts. That way, the critical data assets collected from various clients are analyzed and organized so that different campaigns can be sent to the correct client based on their touchpoints with a business.
That is only one small example of the power of data integration. It doesn’t matter if the business has multiple customer-facing applications, CRM systems, partner data, analytical needs, or more. The point is that incorporating various data tools into a single unified system improves the overall efficiencies and operations of a business, leading to higher success.
What are Data Integration Tools?
Now that data integration has been established as a powerful advantage to daily operations, consider the various tools that provide these efficiencies. Data integration tools are software applications that intake, organize, transform, and transfer multiple data assets from many source locations to a targeted destination. Along the way, these tools will map out the lifecycle of the data and often clean it for any anomalies or inconsistencies, so the final outcome is more reliable for critical decision-making.
Most data integration tools help by simplifying processes by bringing together data from various types and sources into a single pipeline. This can then be leveraged for insights or to enable a new business process.
Even if a business is getting mountains of data on time from the most in-demand source locations, it still needs to be moved through a process where it is easy to understand, appropriately sorted, and integrated into a format that unifies all information.
With so many available sources of information occurring across the marketplace, there is a need for data integration tools to be more varied and perform specific functions.
Types of Data Integration Tools & Features
There are many different types of data integration tools, but most fall into one of four categories that include:
Built-in application API
These data integration tools are enabled through API’s from the platform held within the network or private business cloud of a particular company (hence the name). An internal IT department will typically manage the integrations using custom-built or “off-the-shelf” purchased applications. This improves workflows by creating efficiencies specific to the company.
Many companies are moving to cloud-based data integration tools because of the improved flexibility and adaptability, especially given the trend of operations moving to a more remote workforce. This also helps eliminate the need for internal resources and backups as these tools can be sourced by vendors, creating cost-efficiencies. The more cloud-based, the easier the collaboration.
While these tools are the most expensive, they are also the most specific. Proprietary tools are explicitly designed and built for the specific business to meet its unique needs. This makes them more resilient to attacks because bad actors will not have experience with the particular application, software, or system due to their unique nature. Unfortunately, they tend to take a bit longer to create as well.
Many startups and small to medium-sized companies leverage open-source solutions for data integration. This is probably the most cost-effective solution as the source code is publicly available to anyone that wants to use it. There also tends to be a vibrant online community for answering questions, testing new methods, and integrating new solutions.
Almost any business can find a solution to data integration needs through one of these four categories of tools. However, data integration is not a quick and easy factor to implement. Some roadblocks need to be addressed to smooth out the process.
Challenges of Data Integration
Stop for a moment and consider the initial challenge of data integration. This effectively combines multiple tools and sources into a unified system, which carries many technical challenges by itself.
This challenge gets more complicated if a team is working with pre-built systems that are not adaptable or have a strict time constraint, which means cutting corners and risking operational success.
A business should always take the time to consider its needs when deciding on these tools. Other challenges include:
- Integration Architecture data integration is still in the stage of mass adoption. That means many companies are unaware of the scope or breadth of steps needed to succeed. Careful consideration must be paid to how data is collected, what systems will use the data, who the target users are, and so much more that needs to be answered before a successful integration can be achieved.
- Legacy Systems – many of the tools created 3, 5, or 10+ years ago may not be suitable to handle modern data integration tool APIs. With the advent of IoT products, sensors, and mobile technologies – it may take a team a while to find a bridge so these systems can be integrated appropriately with more antiquated business operations.
- Data Source Consistency – data is not the same. A single source may not be as detailed as another but may have an even more crucial aspect relative to future decision-making. That means emphasis needs to be placed on governance, catalogs, management, and even metadata as the data is integrated and collected into a unified system.
- Maintaining Efficiencies – getting a data integration tool up and running is only the beginning of the journey. As data begins to flow, it will require updates, maintenance, and active observation to ensure proper operations as well as any regulatory or oversight compliance.
- Team Integration – never forget the need to include as many of the crucial users of the data integration tools in the process of adoption. There could be a high learning curve that was overlooked and needs to be addressed so that every user gets the most out of the integration.
How to Choose the Right Data Integration Tool
Even after a business has addressed the various challenges of integration, there are still other factors to consider in making sure the acquisition of a new data integration tool is appropriate for the given business.
For example, a business that relies on cloud computing for most of its operations and works in healthcare would want high-security features and portability for its data integration tools. That way, users can quickly access valuable information while performing their duties without risking breaches or incorrect access.
Almost any selected solution needs to be easy to use by the target users and carry a transparent price model. You do not want to get into a contract without knowing the specific price points you’ll be responsible for paying in the long run.
Unless a business uses a purely internal solution, seeking out a data integration tool with many connectors and cloud compatibility would be wise. This way, it can be smoothly integrated with your systems and have little to no downtime with cloud operations.
Wrapping it Up
There is no single solution for data integration tools because there are just as many available systems as there are various business industries. However, being more informed about your business needs is an excellent first step in selecting a quality solution to move your capabilities forward.
At NextPhase, data integration tools and other assets are created alongside your system needs. This is through a service-based model instead of a pure software solution that cannot scale. We offer services that can grow, expand, and remain flexible alongside your operations. Give us a call today, and let’s discuss how our professional team can help find a data integration tool fit for your operational needs.