What is an ETL and why would I need one?

What Is An ETL Tool?

ETL stands for Extract-Transform-Load and refers to the three step process of moving information for various locations to a centralized database. To simplify:

  1. Extraction refers to pulling data from its sources (multiple databases, cloud storage, servers, uploads, apps, and other such locations.)
  2. Transform refers to changing data types or formats as needed to make it more easily accessible (this could be as simple as organizing data found in spreadsheets, removing redundant information, data validation, and so on.)
  3. Load refers to uploading the now collected and organized data into the target database for storage and access.

An interesting aspect of ETL is that all the process occur at the same time and often pull data from multiple sources. What this means is that the central database is automatically being monitored for new information, being organized, and being updated as needed.

Why Use An ETL Tool

As the above shows, ETL tools are a type of data integration tool. Likely you are already making use of some type of data integration tool. If you are not it is advisable you do so as ETL tools keep your data organized, centralized, and increase ease of access. Non-centralized databases result in data silos which have a severely adverse effect on day to day business.

When you choose to make use of (or upgrade to) ETL tools a third party software platform is an advisable solution. Many companies use ETL tools that are programmed in-house or are custom made. While doing your own coding is useful in many cases there are advantages to using a software platform provided by a third party service provider. These include:

  1. Consistency On Both The Programmer And User End: every programmer (much like every writer) has their own ‘quirks’ this can include methodology, what they stress as important in design, programing language, and user interface. Where this can become an issue is across many departments and over a long period of time it can be hard maintaining a piece of software that is so personalized, especially if the original programmer leaves the company or retires. A 3rd party tool is more consistently maintained and more consistent in its user interface and how it functions. Also, having a central ETL system removes the issues that can arise from having a variety of data storage solutions (on site servers, cloud storage, app records, internal network sharing, etc.) and creates a clearly defined data sharing and retention system.
  2. Ease Of Updates And Development: a professionally made tool not only has regular updates but it also has regular integration of features as they become available. This keeps your ETL tool current and useful even as technology and software advance. This is far easier to make use of on a company wide level as modifying customized software to accommodate industry changes can require a great deal of money, time, and effort on your part.
  3. Ease Of Use: lastly, an ETL allows you to organize your data without being a coder or programmer. Many of these tools are drag and drop and very user-friendly which makes maintaining your central database system far easier. This means you don’t have to worry about your information being correctly organized and updated.

Final Thoughts

In the modern business world, your company makes use of a variety of different data storage platforms be they servers, cloud storage, and apps. An ETL solution allows you to bring all this vital information together easily into one core database ensuring accessibility and proper recording (and sharing) of current information.