Data Access Is Not Integration

Loraine Lawson

For midmarket CIOs, analytics tops the agenda, according to a recent IBM study. Of 3,000 CIOs from 622 organizations worldwide interviewed, 83 percent identified analytics as their top-priority investment area.

Somebody should warn them right now: They won't get far into analytics projects without focusing on an enterprise-wide approach to integration.

A SearchBusinessAnalytics.com (owned by TechTarget) survey on BI initiatives found that data quality and data integration issues top the list of problems. Forty-four percent said data integration would be "one of their biggest BI-related challenges this year," compared with 23 percent last year.

The survey also found a demand for easier integration between BI applications and big-vendor enterprise applications.

It's not uncommon to encounter integration and data quality problems early on with these types of projects, Rick Sherman, founder of data and BI consulting firm Athena IT Solutions, told TechTarget. Part of the problem is that vendors will claim you can plug into any source to create a report, but that's access, not integration, explained Sherman:

You can plug into any source you want and [pull data] into a report. But, you know, that is just access. That is not integration. Similarly, if you have, for example, a warehouse and you have an MDM hub [then] it is an access issue, so those tools work great. But then at some point the business users that fell into listening to that realize that they have to do integration. [At] that point they realize that it's not just an access thing, it's an integration thing.

And of course the move to actual integration, that's when things get complicated and harder.

The tech target interview with Sherman is definitely worth checking out. I particularly liked the part where they ask him for his favorite integration best practice. His response: Don't just jump into coding. Instead, take the time to listen, understand and document the different business rules pertaining to the data integration. He said:

The best practice is to really sit back for a couple minutes and really get a handle on what you're trying to do with the data and how the data needs to be transformed. That means talking and getting the definitions down -- and IT folks don't like to talk. You get into these meetings and a lot of times they can get political and IT folks don't like to handle politics.

On an interesting and vaguely related side note, the IBM study also found 72 percent of midmarket CIOs are "focused on integrating business and technology to drive innovation." So it looks like IT will soon have plenty of opportunities to practice.



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