Enterprise-level companies are dealing with massive, byzantine data systems – and they’re growing larger, more complex, and more profitable by the month. For example, according to TechJury, Netflix saves an estimated $1 billion annually because of the way their data science insights have improved customer retention.

Nevertheless, it's not easy to experience Netflix-level results from your data systems. Before you can extract profit-boosting insights, you’ll have to get through the challenge of integrating all of your information sources seamlessly and accurately into a cohesive “analyzable” whole – even if they don't fit together naturally.

That's where data mapping comes into play. “Data mapping” is the vital process of taking data sets that aren't congruent with each other, and defining the connections between them, so your business intelligence platforms can understand everything to deliver the best possible insights.

In this overview of the data mapping process and its technology, we answer the following questions:

  1. What Is Data Mapping?
  2. When Is Data Mapping Necessary?
  3. What Are the Most Common Data Mapping Techniques?
  4. Xplenty's Advanced Data Mapping Technology: How Does It Help?

(1) What Is Data Mapping?

It’s rare for two data sources to have the same schema (a schema is a database table configuration). Therefore, when we want to combine multiple data sources into a data warehouse, we need to link them together through data mapping. This involves showing where similar data intersect, and what to do with new, duplicate, and conflicting information.

To understand data mapping, imagine three databases with data on popular movies and actors. Each organizes the information into columns and fields, and each has a different organizational strategy. Take a look at the three databases here:

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Can you see how each database has similar and different types of information? For example:

  • The “id” column in the Movie database and the “movieid” column in the Casting database have the same information.
  • The Movie database is the only one with gross earnings information (“gross”).
  • The Actor database is the only one with name information (“name”).

Merging the three databases above into a data warehouse lets you query them (or search for information in them) as if it were a single database. That could be valuable for a business intelligence system that needs a bird's eye view of all the data from a company. Bringing the databases together requires a data map to clarify where the information intersects. Also, you need to define which database's data should be used in cases of duplicate data, and how to treat new information.

Below is an illustration of a basic data map for the movie and actors databases. The connecting lines show how we mapped the data sources to the target schema:

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*The database information in these examples can be found in the SQLZoo lesson on JOIN operations (SQLZoo is a great way to learn SQL for free).

In summary, data mapping creates instructions that merge the information from one or multiple data sets into a single schema (table configuration) that you can query and derive insights from. In more technical terms, data mapping matches the relevant fields from one or more information sources to the relevant fields in a “delimited file” (i.e., a text file that defines the schema of the target destination or data warehouse).

The above example is a simple one, but data mapping becomes exceedingly more complicated depending on the following factors:

  • The size of the data sets.
  • The number of information sources being mapped.
  • The schemas, primary keys, and foreign keys found in the data sources.
  • The differences between the source data structure and the target structure.
  • The hierarchy of the data.

Ultimately, the goal of data mapping is to normalize diverse and incongruent data sets, so BI systems can seamlessly access and analyze the information. When done correctly, this can yield game-changing insights.

(2) When Is Data Mapping Necessary?

Data professionals use data mapping to assist in three main areas: (a) data integration for data warehousing; (b) data transformation; and (c) data migration.

(a) Data Integration for Data Warehousing:

When integrating data into a data warehouse, data mapping defines the connections between the data sources and the data warehouse’s target tables (or schemas). Data mapping for a data warehouse begins with an analysis of the source information and the schemas that apply to it. For example, where do the databases intersect with the same information? The process also begins with the definition of rules to govern the mapping and integration process. For example, if duplicate data is found in two different databases, which data should the system prefer?

Most organizations use automated data mapping technology to map the source information to the target schema. For example, platforms like Xplenty allow you to map unlimited data sources into your data warehouse – even schedule how often to update the warehouse with new data from the source files.

Xplenty also offers out-of-the-box integration capabilities for a wide variety of applications and database types. This automates the work of data mapping and saves a tremendous amount of time.

Here’s how one reviewer from G2Crowd is benefiting from Xplenty’s tools:

“We are building a data warehouse in Bigquery of marketing data to use in online reporting dashboards. This is merging data from multiple sources, including FTP file storage, Google Sheets, and external API's. We also leverage the tool to create more complex outputs such as forecasted data and generating deltas between periods. It helps to ensure we can generate the output exactly as desired, without needing to shoehorn into limitations of dashboard tools.”

(b) Data Transformation:

Data transformation involves taking data in a specific structure or format and converting it into another structure or format. It can play a mission-critical role when preparing information so it can integrate with a data warehouse, or when trying to get data to work with a different application. Data integration involves activities like:

During the initial stages of data transformation, data mapping defines how to map, modify, join, filter, or aggregate the data fields as required by the new data type.

After using Xplenty’s tools to assist with data transformation, the CTO and Co-founder at Raise.me said:

"They really have provided an interface to this world of data transformation that works. It’s intuitive, it’s easy to deal with [...] and when it gets a little too confusing for us, [Xplenty’s customer support team] will work for an entire day sometimes on just trying to help us solve our problem, and they never give up until it’s solved."

(c) Data Migration:

Data migration is the transfer of data from one data repository to another, and data mapping is one of the stages of this process. Before data mapping automation, manually creating a data map was one of the most challenging aspects of data migration. It was error-prone and required lots of time. However, automated data mapping tools like Xplenty reduce the time required while preventing errors.

According to this reviewer, he can achieve in two clicks with Xplenty what used take 3.5 hours:

“We struggled to find a solution to automate reporting, in particular, the notoriously difficult Facebook marketing/advertising APIs. Xplenty was the only solution that let us get to exactly the information we wanted, and with them, we reduced our main reporting from a brutal 3.5-hour manual process to 2 clicks.”

(3) What Are the Most Common Data Mapping Techniques?

There are three primary data mapping techniques you should know about: (a) manual data mapping; (b) schema mapping; and (c) fully-automated mapping.

(a) Manual Data Mapping:

Manual data mapping requires developers to hand-code the connections from the data source to the target schema. Usually, they write the code in XSLT, a programming language that converts XLM documents into other formats. Eventually, as data systems grow and become more complicated, manual coders can’t keep up with data mapping needs, and data teams will need to use automated solutions.

(b) Schema Mapping:

Schema mapping is a semi-automated strategy that uses software to map similar schemas together without too much painstaking human intervention. The software compares the data sources and the target schema to generate the connections. Then, a developer checks the map and makes adjustments where needed. After finalizing the data map, the schema mapping software automatically generates the code (usually in C++, C#, or Java) to load the data. With Xplenty, the automatic code generation process looks like this:

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(c) Fully-Automated Mapping:

Fully-automated data mapping tools offer users a drag-and-drop, graphical interface to carry out data mapping procedures. These tools may feature out-of-the-box integration that allows you to manage the automatic mapping of hundreds of different formats, like Google Sheets, Hubspot, Salesforce, etc. The beauty of fully-automated mapping platforms is that they’re easy for non-coders and novice users to operate. Here’s a screenshot of Xplenty’s drag-and-drop interface:

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(4) Xplenty's Advanced Data Mapping Technology: How Does It Help?

Selecting the right data mapping tool for your needs depends on your project requirements. However, your data mapping application should include the following features at a minimum: (a) code-free data mapping features; (b) automatic data merging and transformation; and (c) support for diverse types of structured and unstructured data. Xplenty hits all of these benchmarks and more, so let's take a closer look at its features:

(a) Code-Free Data Mapping Features:

The larger and more complicated your data set becomes, the more impossible manual coding will be. Moreover, manual data mapping requires a high level of technical expertise to implement – representing additional labor costs. By choosing a data mapping platform with no-code functionality, you’ll receive the following benefits:

  • Users without coding knowledge can carry out data mapping tasks.
  • A graphical user interface with drag-and-drop functionality makes it easier to visualize and make alterations to data mapping projects.
  • Automated processes eliminate (or significantly reduce) the chances of human error that could interfere with the accuracy of data.
  • No-coding automation allows you to efficiently carry out mapping tasks related to data objects at any level of complexity.

Xplenty’s no-code functionality helps novice users complete complex data mapping tasks through an interactive dashboard.

(b) Automatic Data Merging and Transformation:

Before data mapping, you may need to prepare the data by transforming it from different application formats. This can take a lot of time, but as we mentioned above, most mapping tools come with a built-in library of predefined integrations.

Xplenty includes hundreds of out-of-the-box data manipulation functions. This screenshot shows a handful of Xplenty’s built-in data manipulation functions:

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(c) Support for Diverse Types of Structured and Unstructured Data:

Your data mapping tools should support data from a wide variety of structured formats like RDBMS formats, JSON, XML, CSV, IDOC, EDI, fixed length and delimited files, and more. Also, because most businesses need to integrate structured data with unstructured (and semi-structured) data sources, data mapping software should support formats like RTF, PDF, weblogs, and other non-relational formats. Moreover, if your business uses a cloud-based CRM application, such as Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics CRM, look for a data mapping tool that connectivity for all the enterprise applications you use

Xplenty offers data mapping for a wide range of structured and unstructured data sources, including all of the above. It even pulls data from Facebook.

Xplenty: Our Customers Come First

There's a lot more to know about data mapping, but this overview should give you a solid foundation on the topic to continue expanding your knowledge.

As a final note, we’d like to recognize that there are many excellent data mapping platforms available to help you get through your data integration bottlenecks. However, there’s something special that sets Xplenty apart: Our highly-responsive customer support. After all, what good are the best data integration platforms if their users can’t apply the technology?

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Here’s what our customers on G2Crowd said about the quality of Xplenty’s customer support:

“The support team are always ready to jump in and help if needed. I also like the fact that the support team and comprehensive documentation is often focused on helping you learn [to] achieve the result you want rather than doing the job for you. This has helped us leverage the learning for other uses.”
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“Definitely give Xplenty a try. Work with the sandbox a bit, and if something is confusing, ask support, they always seem to reply within about 5 minutes for us!”
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“The best feature is the customer support, they're always there in case you have any doubt. Even if you don't ask them something, they are constantly monitoring their system and asking you if you need any help with any of your running jobs.”
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With Xplenty's support, documentation, and straightforward design, there were very few challenges I faced. For any questions that came up, their support usually responded within a few minutes or at most the next business day, which was critical when we had time-sensitive projects.

Contact the Xplenty Team Now!

If you’re curious about how Xplenty can help your team blow through data mapping and data integration difficulties, give us a call at +1-888-884-6405 or email us at hello@xplenty.com. We'd love to talk about Xplenty’s latest developments with you.