ETL: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding

ETL refers to the process of creating a single source of truth for all the data an organization intends to use. The process has three steps: extraction, transformation, and loading. Extraction involves taking data from different sources. These can be databases, ERP tools, web pages, or even documents. Transforming is converting data into a suitable format for use. Before conversion, the data may need to be filtered, duplicated, cleansed, and authenticated. The process of transformation may also require encryption of data for security purposes or to adhere to relevant laws. Loading is the storage of data in a suitable database.

How the Process Works

The ETL process begins with the collection of data from one or several sources. A good example would be an e-commerce business collecting transaction data in real-time on its app or website. The data goes to a staging area for the transformation step. The cleansing filtering and conversion are automated using data tools. This enables the handling of large volumes of data. The final step is loading the data into a Decision Support System database (DSS). From here, the data can be queried to help come up with business intelligence.

ETL vendors today have created user-friendly tools that allow non-data professionals to carry out the ETL process by themselves. This is the meaning of self-service data access. Business owners can draw insights from their business data without the cost of hiring a data professional. The automation minimizes the chance of human error in the transformation process, thus guaranteeing the quality of output of the ETL process.

IoT and ETL

The Internet of Things has led to an exponential growth in the amount of data available in the world. Sensors can now be embedded in virtually all devices, whether at home, in cars, or in industrial operations. The amount of data generated through IoT is growing at a CAGR of 28%. This data needs to be filtered, cleansed, and stored in a ready-to-use format. Cloud-native ETL tools are handy for the handling of IoT data.  

Types of ETL Tools

ETL tools simplify and automate taking large volumes of data and preparing it for use. Data professionals classify them according to the manner they work or their native environment, for instance, the cloud.

Cloud native ETL tools load data from various sources into a cloud warehouse. Cloud-native ETL tools are often a collection of several applications that exist as SaaS products. They are easy to integrate with your cloud infrastructure if it exists.

Real-time ETL tools fulfill today’s demand for fast processing of data. Business intelligence is more valuable if received and used on time. Real-time ETL tools can pick data as the business generates it, and immediately process it for use. This is crucial in industries such as finance and logistics where early detection of trends can mean millions in business intelligence.

Open-source ETL tools are built and maintained by user communities as opposed to a single commercial vendor. Tools such as Apache Kafka are a great alternative to vendor-owned tools. They allow businesses without a budget for commercial ETL tools to benefit from data generated in their operations.  

Developing an Extraction, Transformation Strategy

Business seeking to implement an ETL strategy can follow certain best practices to improve chances of their success.

The first would be to only collect the relevant data for their intended use. This reduces redundancies while also making the transformation process faster. High quality of data directly translates into high quality of insights. As such, it would be beneficial to engage a data consultant to help decide on the data to collect, the point at which to collect, as well as the most efficient method to collect it.

It’s important to have checkpoints in the ETL process. These checkpoints are important so that errors in the process do not necessarily mean starting the process again. This is an important feature when designing ETL processes. It should be possible to pause the integration process and resume it later after fixing an error.

It’s also important to maintain logs on the ETL integration process. Logs would contain information regarding data sources, timing of the process, and the number of records integrated and created. They help when there is need to interrogate the process for consistency and accuracy.

Challenges of ETL

Businesses implementing an ETL strategy must prepare for common challenges likely to arise in the process.

First, the business is likely to be using data coming in large volumes from different sources. It’s likely to be a mix of both structured and unstructured data. Some of it may be coming in batches while the other is streaming in constantly. The business must develop an efficient methodology to handle the various data types.

Small businesses will often conduct their ETL processes in batches. However, as the businesses grow, they may need to find a streaming solution where replication happens continuously. This often involves moving to cloud operation and using cloud native ETL tools. It can be a delicate process where the business may lose some data or struggle to identify the right cloud tools to pick. It’s important to work with vendors who understand the operations of the business quite well so they can advise on the right tools.

As highlighted, the data transformation process is automated using programs. These programs need proper testing before deployment to ensure they work accurately. Whenever the designers tweak them, re-testing is necessary. Failure to do so often lead to errors in transformation. Common errors include duplication, erasure, or even picking incorrect inputs. The ETL process requires proper checks to ensure such mistakes do not occur.

Finding the Right ETL Partner

If your business is seeking an automated solution to extracting, transforming, and loading data in ready-to-use DSS, Transcendent Software can help set-up a cloud-native solution. We will help design a strategy, including determining the right data to collect. Transcendent Software is an IT services company that helps businesses design and set up their IT infrastructure properly. Reach out to us for a free consultation.