Inaccuracies in business data generate the wrong analyses and intelligence reports. This can result in poor decisions and failures, which will eventually be the downfall of a business.
Sounds scary? Because it is.
Your business needs an extract, transform, and load (ETL) solution that lets you define the frequency and cadence of data refresh. The software would ensure that the data in your reporting database is updated and accurate at all times. Your business intelligence (BI) software applies this data to get business insights, which then, allows you to make data-backed decisions.
To understand why accuracy, relevance, and date in a database is important, let's look at the example of the school grading system. In each term, the subject score is totaled and students are assigned grades. If the scores in a subject are unavailable, the final grades can't be assigned.
So, at the end of each term (frequency), you need all the scores (cadence).
As ETL is a technical tool, you need to know its features and benefits before purchasing it. Ensure that the tool you select meets the frequency and cadence requirements of data upload, which means getting the desired reports in the stipulated amount of time.
To help you select the right ETL solution for your business, we created this buyers guide to discuss the following topics:
What is ETL software?
ETL software is a platform that helps businesses manage data transfer from different sources into the central database of a BI solution. These sources could include software applications (such as CRM and HR), data files (such as CSV and XML), in-house databases, and cloud-based data storage solutions.
There are three components of an ETL solution:
- Extract: Reads data from different databases and software solutions.
- Transform: Performs data cleaning and formatting functions on the extracted data, so that its format (such as text, date, and numbers) is consistent with the data warehouse fields or headers (such as name, payment details, and contacts).
- Load: Moves data after the second step (i.e., data transformation) to the data warehouse. This data can be loaded into either a cloud-based or an on-premise data warehousing solution.
ETL workflow in Altova (Source)
Common features of ETL software
The first step in purchasing an ETL solution to understand its features. This will help you shortlist products based on the offered capabilities, ensuring that the product you choose performs all the functions you need.
The table below lists the common features of ETL software.
||Extracts data from different sources such as local servers and software applications. Some products offer built-in connectors that let users extract data from different software such as CRM and HR.
||Schedules and monitors the data importing and loading operations for different sources. For instance, you can set a data extraction operation every 12 hours.
||Provides users a graphical interface to design ETL workflows. This lets them easily perform ETL operations, as the process doesn't require a lot of technical know-how.
||Cleans data errors, such as truncation spaces and formatting issues, before uploading the data into the data warehouse.
||Provides users reports related to their ETL operations. These reports can include the amount of data transferred, time taken, and growth in data volume.
What type of buyer are you?
As ETL is a technical function, your technological proficiency will decide the type of software you should purchase. In this section, we analyze the needs and challenges of two types of software buyers. We've also identified the types of ETL software that each buyer type should consider for use.
- Small businesses with less technical expertise. If your business doesn't have a dedicated IT staff, select a solution that offers built-in data connectors that allow smooth data transfers. This will help you extract data from different sources without having to manually code the operations.
- Businesses with dedicated IT teams. Buyers with a dedicated IT team are better equipped to create custom data connections and managing solutions as they can fully understand technical issues. For this reason, buyers should choose a tool that offers advanced reporting, which can help them identify ways to improve their ETL operations.
Benefits of ETL software
The next step of the buyer journey is to understand the advantages of using the software. Understand the usefulness of the software, how it will suit your business, and things to focus on before making the final decision.
Based on our research, here are a few benefits of ETL software:
- Accurate and real-time reporting. The manual processes of data collecting, cleaning, and uploading are time consuming and prone to error. An ETL solution automates these steps, thus, helping you generate timely and accurate business reports.
- Automatic data sync. It's hard to manually sync all the databases, which means that the generated reports aren't always accurate. For instance, if all your sales and purchase management systems aren't synchronized, profit estimates will be incorrect. ETL software ensures that all data sources are automatically synced with the BI database.
Visual workflows. ETL operations are purely technical and, if done manually, require programming knowledge. An ETL solution offers a visual workflow designer interface that lets you define all the data operations in a process. This provides a graphical representation of your data-related workflows.
Market trends to understand
While you decide on whether to implement an ETL solution in your organization, you should be aware of the relevant market trends. Find out which vendors are incorporating new technologies in their offerings because this could potentially give you first-mover advantage in the market.
According to our research, event streams being an integral part of ETL software will be the biggest market trend.
Akin to live dashboards, event streams allow you to monitor the real-time information of your business functions. For example, shipment tracking streams let you track the real-time status and location of your shipments.
Unlike the traditional ETL approach, in which data is refreshed at fixed intervals, event streams refresh data in real time. For this reason, the latter requires higher network bandwidth and more efficient data management. As demand for event streams in BI grows, we expect ETL vendors to incorporate it in their offerings by 2022.