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What do you think of when you hear the word “data?”
Databases, right? Big Data, NoSQL, cloud based applications like Salesforce or Marketo or Oracle Marketing Cloud, also known as Eloqua. Perhaps oceans of data in Google Analytics, or systems of record (SORs) built on relational databases. Data that’s mission-critical for decision making. It’s everywhere. Those ones and zeros flow around you like oxygen. You live it, you breathe it, but you don’t touch it—unless you’re a data wrangler, that is.
Data wranglers touch data every day. They spend hours every week manipulating data and turning it into useful insight. Like a potter fashioning a bowl from clay, the data wrangler turns data into knowledge. Unfortunately, many wranglers barely have time to do that after the struggle of simply getting data into a usable form.
In 1988, Peter Drucker wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Information is data endowed with relevance and purpose. Converting data into information thus requires knowledge. And knowledge, by definition, is specialized.”
Yes, the data wrangler nods and agrees—knowledge is specialized. To turn data into information, you first have to get your arms around it. You need to put it into a form that lends itself to contextual discovery. One that can be easily shared. That’s still very true today. You know what else is true today? Much of this data wrangling is still done by hand, one spreadsheet at a time, and it’s been that way since 1988.
Like many of you, I “touch” a lot of data in Excel. I have always thought of Excel as a tool for manipulating small sets of data from which I might extract insights if I squeezed hard enough. Recently, however, I have come to realize how much data comes to me not from databases or through APIs, but from Excel spreadsheets themselves, distributed around the enterprise. I see this at every company I work with, from the Fortune 500 to the individual consultant. I’ve encountered customers with million-row Excel files. Suddenly Excel isn’t just a spreadsheet tool; it’s a portable database that lets you touch the data.
But Excel isn’t a database, nor is it business intelligence (BI) software; it’s a spreadsheet tool, pressed into service for data prep—a purpose it wasn’t intended to solve. And that’s why it’s so hard to squeeze knowledge from an Excel file.
Which brings me back to the word data. It comes in all shapes and sizes, but for analytics and reporting, you need it in a clean, consistent, and portable format. That’s where specialized data preparation tools come into play.
Data wranglers spend too much time getting data into spreadsheets. They spend too much time getting data back out; too much time blending data using a complex array of transformations, VLookups, and pivot tables; too much time correcting the data by hand. They simply spend too much time in the packaging and not enough in the product.
Every data wrangler is familiar with this problem. No one should face a constant, error-prone struggle of moving data into and out of spreadsheets.
Easyl makes it easy to access and prepare data from many disparate sources for use in analytics and reporting. But we also recognize that spreadsheets are still the lingua franca of the reporting world. That’s why Progress® Easyl™, our data integration and blending tool, makes Excel both an input and an output format. You can upload data from Excel files, and blend it right along with the data from cloud and on-premise data sources. And you can output the blended and filtered data back into Excel.
Easyl turns the time consuming process of transforming data into just a few clicks. That means the data wrangler can spend more of her time doing what she’s best at: turning data into information. What do you have to lose? Sign up for your free trial of Easyl today. Let me know how it goes in the comments, and keep an eye on the blog for more from the data wrangler!
Also, make sure you check out Part I and Part II of this series for more tips for easy data preparation.
Rich is the Principal Product Manager for Progress Easyl, a cloud-based data integration and blending tool that enables you to create reporting data sets and data marts “on-the-fly” quickly and easily. Rich has spent two decades working with data-driven applications and marketing automation, and served in senior management roles at a number of Silicon Valley companies before settling in North Carolina. Rich has led consulting engagements for Fortune 1000 clients including Cisco, Microsoft, Seagate and McKesson, and is an alum of PeopleSoft, Oracle, and Informix. Rich was nominated in 2015 by President Barack Obama to serve on the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board.
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