Data exchange

Like chocolate and peanut butter: When to use ETL, data file exchange (or both!)

A strong flow of information can drive decision-making and innovation. But what makes that flow possible is the infrastructure that directs the movement and transformation of data. Two critical components of this data ecosystem are ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) and data file exchange (collecting, transforming and importing data files), and each plays an important role in ensuring data accessibility, accuracy, and usability.

ETL processes are responsible for automatically and regularly extracting data from specific sources, transforming it into a desired target format, and loading it into systems for analysis and reporting. ETL is perfect for well-structured data and highly managed systems and databases. You can use an ETL tool to do things like synchronizing master customer data between a CRM system and an accounting system or loading data from a transactional system into a data warehouse. However, these systems are built on the idea that data is only ever transferred between tightly managed IT systems.

Data exchange, on the other hand, helps with all the other data, specifically how to efficiently, quickly and securely collect, transform and load data files into your structured IT systems. If such files come from tons of different sources or arrive in a variety of formats and need data mapping, review, cleanup and validation before you can import them, a data exchange solution will help you collect and load them into different systems, applications or databases, data file exchange is the solution you need.

Enterprise-class data exchange solutions can cover a range of use cases, from simple file imports to complex data onboarding workflows. Whether you're collecting data from millions of remote users, exchanging data with business partners or sharing information between departments within an organization, data file exchange offers you the flexibility, security and speed you need to efficiently get your data in the right shape to the right place.

Why not use both?

Data exchange solutions are actually designed to work seamlessly alongside traditional integration solutions. ETL tools integrate structured systems and databases and manage the ongoing transfer and synchronization of data records between these systems. If you add a data exchange solution to your ETL tool, you’ll have the power to import and exchange highly variable data files from sources that aren’t managed by a professional IT organization. They can be implemented either on separate independent and parallel tracks or so that the data file exchange solution feeds the restructured, cleaned and validated data into the ETL system for further consolidation in downstream systems.

Like chocolate and peanut butter: Data exchange and ETL

Pairing a data exchange solution with a traditional ETL tool offers a lot of advantages for managing and transferring data and a number of key capabilities to your data integration stack, including:

  • Human-in-the-loop: Data exchange solutions are designed for human interaction and adding this capability can improve efficiency and data quality and reduce error rates.

  • Data collaboration: Effective data exchange often requires review and interaction between the person who submits the data and the person who reviews it. ETL tools are optimized for automated system-to-system data synchronization. The use of data exchange systems provides a solution for a data collaboration use case securely, efficiently and at scale.

  • Any source: ETL tools can provide strong connections between known systems and data exchange solutions are great for receiving data from any type of source without the need for fixed integration points and long, drawn-out implementation projects.

  • Ephemeral data integration: Data imports can sometimes come from individual users that only drop in one file at a time. The integration and interaction with a single user may only be for seconds, and then that single-user integration will never be needed again. Providing this “disposable” integration from both known users and anonymous website visitors can be a critical capability that data exchange solutions provide.

  • Data collection from many (small and large) sources: The wide variety of potential data sources, often across thousands or millions of data submitters, is a challenge for any system that requires traditional integration credentials and specifications. Data exchange solutions are built on the idea that data sources are variable, unreliable and unpredictable. They can act as a filter and provide structure and order for incoming data, no matter what type and how many sources.

  • Intelligent and scalable data cleaning and validation: Data exchange tools can handle large volumes of data that might otherwise require a lot of time and manual effort to clean, validate and process. This supports a much more timely and efficient flow of data in parallel to other data streams that are managed with ETL tools.

  • Secure gate for external data: A data exchange solution provides an effective entrance gate to any organization’s data ecosystem. This helps enforce governance and compliance standards for data sharing and privacy and provides a secure pathway for new data entering your systems.

Combining the strengths of a data exchange platform with the advantages of a traditional ETL tool will create an ideal data integration and management ecosystem that can handle data exchange, transformation, and loading processes and help you seamlessly communicate and collaborate.

In the constantly changing and evolving world of data management, understanding ETL and data file exchange processes is like holding the keys to a data-driven kingdom. Taking advantage of the benefits of each can help you make sure that the right data reaches the right places in the right format, helping you make informed decisions and stay competitive in a data-centric world.