For businesses dependent on large amounts of data, an ETL solution is essential. ETL allows you to extract data from a database, transform the data so it is organized and accurate, and load the data into a target destination. Basically, the tool lets you to actually utilize the vast amounts of data you've collected.

There are a number of ETL solutions on the market. They vary their approach with regards to data structure, location and volume. Here are some factors to consider when choosing an ETL software for the first time or if you need to switch from your current ETL tool.

Table of Contents

What is ETL and How Does it Work?

Comparing ETL to ELT

Key Features of ETL Solutions

How to Choose the Right ETL Solution

What is ETL and How Does it Work?

Before you can decide on an ETL tool, you need to understand what ETL is and how it works. How that process occurs is less apparent to those who do not regularly engage with these systems. In the modern data-driven world, businesses of all sizes collect vast amounts of information on a regular basis. The potential of this data is extraordinary. It can help elevate business intelligence to streamline marketing, product development, and even internal operations.

That's where the ETL process comes in. In short, ETL collects and transform from a number of different sources into one accessible, functional database. This is necessary because data sources are structured for different purposes. For example, much of a business' data may come from a source like MySQL or PostgreSQL, which is developed to make it easy for information to be entered and saved into the system. It is not, however, optimized to cleanse and analyze that data for the kind of analysis that's useful for more strategic purposes.

Comparing ETL to ELT

The features of ETL are quite clear. But you may also have heard a similar acronym: ELT. Both acronyms refer to the same words: Extract, Transform and Load. However, In ELT, the loading happens before the data is transformed.

This is a key difference between ETL and ELT. Again, the reasons for this benefit may be quite intuitive. When a business wants to glean usable intelligence from its mountain of data, it wants to do so as quickly as possible. This allows companies to be agile and responsive and to make relevant strategic choices. The process is much longer and more cumbersome if a business uses a system that has to transform the data after its loaded, in effect waiting to make the data usable until it is needed.

In addition, it is at that transformation stage that businesses discover what steps they must take to protect, encrypt or even delete particular data to comply with legal regulations. In other words, the transformation stage is best utilized as soon as possible, before a company needs to use the information for business intelligence. Expediting the transformation stage also ensures that there's less risk of security breaches that can subject the business to legal and financial liability.

Key Features of ETL Solutions

There are a number of factors that build upon the concerns of security and data usability. Combined, they can help you to find the right ETL tool for your business needs. So what should you look for when deciding on an ETL solution?

Accessibility of business intelligence reports: Some ETL solutions expedite the reporting process for you. In the absence of such a feature, a business may have to develop its own reports from the loaded data. An ideal tool allows for both customized reports from transformed and loaded data, as well as some common, pre-filled data reports to help save time.

Data identification at all levels: An optimal ETL solution starts as soon as the data is extracted to identify what a company actually has. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this process. In order to use data effectively, and to uphold its responsibility as a repository of information, an ETL solution must not only collect data but offer in-depth visibility to users. That way, businesses know right away what steps they have to take to protect that data.

Masking of personally identifiable information: Increasingly, businesses are called upon to properly protect all personally identifiable information they hold. This is the result of such sweeping laws as the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The right ETL solution can identify this sensitive data, mask and/or encrypt it, and load it into a data warehouse.

Data cleansing and optimization: Many solutions offer an efficient collection process, but fail to properly vet data or to combine it with existing information. An optimal ETL solution has built-in capabilities to clean up the data during the transformation and loading processes. The need for this is to reduce errors in the database and to reduce duplication and unnecessary information.

Using the Data Inside and Outside Its Destination: During the loading stage, it is essential for companies to be able to use data in the most effective way possible. Since the data lake contains both structured and unstructured information, processors should have the option to manipulate that data in the lake before using it in another form. At all stages of ETL, businesses should be able to see what information they have and to modify and restructure it as they see fit, in a secure and intuitive manner.

Safeguards for developers: As a final point, an ETL solution should allow in-house IT staff to manipulate the data flow, but without damaging the original data. Safeguards that stop more than one person from using the system, or a particular ETL flow, at the same time, as well as backups and other security measures, can help keep a company's data safe.

How to Choose the Right Solution

Before opting for an ETL solution, it is key for companies to think about the disparity of their data sources and how they ultimately want to use information. From there, they can find the right software to meet their needs.

Superior solutions not only manipulate data, but do so in a way that offers maximum benefit to the end user. Companies understand what kind of data they really have, and how they can use it. Importantly, they also have the opportunity to reflect on their responsibility with regards to that data.

Consider these factors when choosing between ETL solutions:

  • A solution that helps you design data pipelines. A superior product allows your team to create an ETL that functions at optimal levels for your organization. That takes into account the complete pathway of your data, from the original sources to business intelligence reports and similar outputs. Look for a solution that is fully customizable, but intuitive to use in order to save your team time and resources.
  • A solution that helps you control data flow. In the massive flow of information, it is possible for data to be lost, transformed in a way that is inappropriate or unsuable, or duplicated. Your ETL should give you access to data while also determining how and when it goes through each stage of the ETL process.
  • A solution that is transparent and easy to use. The volume of data reporting means your team members regularly interact with the ETL solution. They should find this process easy, free of frustrations such as complicated command processes. A superior ETL allows expert IT staff to manipulate code when it works for them, or to use a simple point-and-click process when that is most effective.
  • A solution that contains checks and balances. Anyone using the ETL should know where data is at any given time. They should have the capacity to spot errors at the earliest stage. The solution should have periodic reports and status updates that are easy to comprehend. They should be able to produce sample reports before an entire job is complete, in order to rework the data flow if necessary.
  • A solution that ensures a high level of security and legal compliance. Use of the ETL should elevate a business' compliance with laws surrounding the collection, use and storage of personal information. The automated process can ensure hashing of personal information so businesses can extract meaningful business intelligence while still randomizing the data. This reduces the likelihood of a security breach, or the unintended disclosure of personal data, that might otherwise occur through a manual masking or encryption process.

Final Remarks

There are a number of ETL solutions on the market. They vary in their approach with regards to data structure, location and volume. As a result, finding the right one for your business depends on a number of different factors, listed above. If you want an ETL solution that includes all of these important factors, Xplenty is a great option.

Xplenty is a code-free, cloud-based ETL data integration platform. Our powerful on-platform transformation tools allow our clients to clean, normalize and transform their data while also adhering to the best data security and compliance practices. To find out more about ETL and how it can work for your organization, contact Xplenty today for a personalized demo.