Data exchange

Data file exchange: What it is and why it's essential for businesses today

Anne Bonner

Posted 1/17/2024

Data files are everywhere. They seem invisible most of the time, but you’ll find them inside your business with employees, teams and departments, and outside with customers, prospects, partners, suppliers, and service providers. Unfortunately, when you need to import them into your system, they’re probably not perfectly structured, organized and ready to use

Getting all of those different data files and file types into your system can be a constant and painful challenge, but they contain key information that can drive the health and success of your business. By now, you've discovered that traditional tools aren't an efficient solution for your needs, and you're probably spending time and resources on complicated workarounds.

Data exchange (sometimes referred to as “data file exchange,” "data import," "data collection," or "data onboarding") is the solution that can help any company safely and efficiently import all the highly variable data files it needs. Even if your files come from tons of different sources in a wide variety of formats and need manual mapping, review, cleanup and validation before you can import them, a data exchange solution will help you deal efficiently with all of the real-world data that you have.

Data file exchange, data management, ETL concept graphic

How is data exchange different from solutions like ETL?

Even though you need to collect and import data from your customers, suppliers, partners, agents, and any number of other sources, you probably haven't found the right way to simplify that process. Data integration and management tools may have been around for decades, but they don't always make life easy…

Traditional ETL (Extract Transform Load) and iPaaS (integration Platform as a Service) solutions are great for connecting highly structured systems and databases. You can use an ETL solution to do things like synchronize master customer data between a CRM system and an accounting system. You could use a data management tool to ensure and enforce data retention policies across an extensive corporate database of employee data.

But do they actually simplify your data imports?

These systems are built on the idea that data is only ever safely and securely transferred between tightly managed IT systems. They ignore today's data import and onboarding reality: Data is messy! Your data files almost certainly require complicated data mapping, review, cleanup and validation and may even need human oversight before they can be imported into managed databases and business systems.

What is data exchange?

Data exchange is the safe, fast, and efficient upload of data files that are:

  • Highly variable in structure and quality and frequently vary from file to file

  • Often external to professionally managed IT systems

  • Saved in a wide variety of formats, like CSV, XLS, PDF, etc.

  • Received from multiple sources, like end users, partners, customers, agents and suppliers

Data exchange is the solution that lets businesses safely and efficiently import a range of data file types from thousands or even millions of different sources. It can work on its own, and it's also incredibly helpful when you pair it with traditional integration tools. If your business has a traditional tool in place, pairing it with a data exchange solution can improve every step of your data integration process, particularly if you’re dealing with multiple file types and data files from external sources.

Here are a few real-life examples of data exchange solutions in action:

  • Healthcare providers can safely import and quickly analyze prescription data from independent medical facilities. By analyzing this data more quickly, they can identify trends in patient outcomes, rapidly optimize treatment plans, and improve diagnosis and patient care.

  • E-commerce marketplaces use these easy-to-use solutions to import, clean and validate data from a wide variety of sources and file formats. By improving the import time and cleanliness of data, they can quickly get new vendors and products up and running.

  • Manufacturing companies can collect and consolidate supply chain data from a wide network of vendors. By analyzing this data, they can quickly identify bottlenecks, optimize production schedules and reduce costs.

AI-powered data exchange

Using the power of AI in the data exchange process can open up levels of automation, data quality and speed that were previously unattainable. A good data file exchange solution will use technology like AI to provide the speed, efficiency and quality that can help you quickly make important decisions. AI-powered data exchange solutions can also help less technical users import data files successfully.

The right data exchange solution will: 

  • Streamline complicated data import processes 

  • Simplify elaborate data workflows 

  • Allow you to truly collaborate on data across team

Data file exchange isn't just a convenience; it's a strategic necessity. It helps organizations quickly share information, make informed decisions, and adapt to market conditions. With the right solution, businesses report a 50% improvement in onboarding time and processes that used to take months can be completed in weeks or even days.

Flatfile, the pioneer of AI-assisted data exchange, provides companies and their software development teams with the easiest, fastest, and safest way to build the ideal data file import experience for their users. If you aren't sure what the right solution is for your business, contact Flatfile today. We've worked with hundreds of customers to solve their data exchange challenges, and we can help you build the solution that's right for you.

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