We can describe data integration in multiple ways and apply it to many situations, so let’s begin by looking at a couple of definitions…The traditional definition of data integration is something along the lines of ‘... the process of combining data from two or more sources to provide a unified view’ with the intent of extracting business intelligence from consolidated reporting or performing data analysis to draw out insights.
A modern definition of data integration is ‘...creating a flow of data and information between applications, at the speed of business, to improve customer experience, increase revenue, reduce time-to-market, or lift employee experience and productivity. If you are in the Defence, Security, Health or Medical space, data integration even helps you detect real-time threats and save lives.
The introduction of Software as a Service (SaaS) for specific point solutions – such as CRM or Invoicing – has also introduced siloed information repositories, which then bring rise to a new set of problems that the old monolithic era did not have.
With a correct operating definition, we can identify your data challenges before they prevent you from achieving control over your processes and output. Here are some commons challenges that we’ll address in this article:
- Data stuck in silos
- Disorganised data
- Manual data collection
- Low-quality data
- Duplicate data
Then, we’ll move on to the solution that solves these issues for your business.
Data stuck in silos
You have customer data scattered across various applications. Your departments are not communicating. You have outdated data, new data, and some that you cannot even tell if it is relevant. You are dealing with the problems of data silos.
What is a data silo? And how did they come to cause such disruption in your business?
A data silo occurs when information is only accessible by one department of your company. Silos occur when different departments do not leverage the same apps. Two people from two departments may have created databases to log the same information and never investigated whether one already existed.
If your data is unorganised, it can prevent you from making smart business decisions and negatively impact your marketing strategies.
Centralising your data is easier said than done, and disorganised data usually results from a company relying on people to manage it. Curating and combining data is time-consuming, especially with the vast amounts of data to create, gather, and manipulate; it is not hard for disorganisation to arise. A more valuable use of your employees’ time would be to analyse data insights and improve business operations.
Manual data collection
Real-time data collection is imperative for specific processes. For example, a retailer that owns an e-commerce site may want to display individual, targeted ads to each customer, depending on their search history. But, your team cannot meet these demands if they cannot collect the data quickly. Realistically, you cannot rely on your employees to manually manage the data in real time. Most organisations do not have the resources or team capacity to attempt such a time-consuming task.
Manual data collection also gives way to other problems, such as errors, siloed data and duplicate data.
The repercussions of poor-quality data can seep into every aspect of your company. Low-quality data can lead to customer dissatisfaction, increased operational costs, loss of revenue, missed insights, and reputational damage. For this reason, you need a data quality management process.
To ensure you drive innovation, stay compliant, and make accurate business decisions, you need to validate your data at the time of ingestion into line-of-business systems. If your team can accomplish this, you will significantly reduce the poor-quality data in your systems. You can automate some (not all) of these validation processes. You can at least perform checks that allow you to alert someone that certain data may not be up to scratch.
Data duplication is a challenge often lurking under the surface in many of the organisations that we speak with. It scales in its problematic reach much faster than most organisations can scale their growth.
Duplicate data rapidly becomes a significant issue, leading to poor customer service, income loss, and decreased productivity due to the following factors:
- Human error is always a risk that you must account for and mitigate.
- The chances of human error increase when you have more duplicated sources.
- Larger volumes of data increase the chances of error.
- If business rules are required to determine when duplication should happen, then complexity dramatically increases the error rate.
- You have different systems relying on multiple sources of truth.
It is imperative that every team (and process) can rely on the data they need to do their job, make decisions and take action. The duplication examples I gave above are just a handful. The whole problem is much more far-reaching and damaging.
What impact do these have on your business?
A few key areas where the above issues really hit hard are:
- Online e-commerce site inventory (stock), descriptions, pricing, and delivery times: If any of these are wrong, expect to be providing refunds to your customers.
- Finance, forecasting and reporting: If there are inaccuracies in data, then decisions made based on that data have a high chance of being wrong.
- Customer service tracking, monitoring and follow-up: Even if you have a tiny percentage of customers getting lost in a queue, they will make a lot of noise, and you will see negative repercussions.
- Production processes and services: Every mistake made in getting a product/service to completion takes two to five times more effort to fix.
In short: People will make several significant mistakes when your business has a lot of inaccurate data.
Data integration solves these issues
You may be thinking that all of this looks pretty grim. So, how can you fix it?
Data integration is the process of combining data from multiple sources by getting your data platforms to communicate. Imagine that when a customer updates their details, all your systems receive that updated information, which you can access whenever you need. Your customers can experience improved customer experience and the confidence that their data is ready anywhere and anytime they interact with one of your services.
There are several approaches to data integration, so you must choose the right approach for your business. These methods save your team from manual data entry and reduce the risk of errors, siloed data and duplication across the organisation.
To get started, you will need an understanding of the following:
- Where the silos are
- Where the sources of truth are
- Where the information needs to flow
- What business rules need to apply to the data as it moves through your business
Then, by implementing an integration platform, along with an integration strategy, you can be on your way to resolving these issues. You can even use Integrations as a Service and have a team with experience do this for you.
Data integration experts will work with you to:
- Determine the source of truth (where the true data should come from) and determine the processes relying on this (what teams/systems utilise this data?)
- Understand how often this data needs to replicate out to other systems/processes (weekly, daily, hourly or instantly)
- Consider if any manipulation needs to happen to this information (business rules that might convert the structure, format, or even remove some irrelevant sensitive information in the destination systems)
- Introduce an integration platform or iPaaS integration and an integration strategy to handle the requirements collected above
Monitor, assess and improve (fine-tuning is always required as the business gets smarter and works faster)
Once you have a data integration solution, you can begin relying on your data for accuracy, driving improvements across the business, and making informed decisions, among many other benefits.
Creative Folks can resolve your data challenges
When we work with customers who need their systems talking to each other, we look at their applications and the underlying services they offer and then overlay that with their strategy, goals and initiatives. Our expertise lies in understanding your ecosystem, highlighting the possibilities, presenting the options and deploying the right solution - in the right order - for you.
Visit our Systems Integration and cloud integration page for more on our capabilities.