The Common Features of Data Integration Tools

The tools available in the marketplace for data integration are diverse. To say that there was a standard set of required features for data integration tools would be a bit of a stretch. There is little, at the present moment, in the way of recognition that there are common features and problems in the data integration space. This is due to the fact that companies are not buying products for their ability to unify and integrate their data alone, but rather to solve some other class of problem.

On the other hand, there is a lot of commonality, both in functionality and in presentation or user interaction, among tools in very different tool categories. A certain core set of features appear again and again, and a common graphical depiction has also become nearly ubiquitous among the products.

This stereotypical user interface consists of one or more box with a list of data element names stacked vertically, and then the provided ability to connect individual columns from one box to individual columns in a second box by drawing lines between the boxes. Some of the common features of data integration tools include: a data dictionary for the schemas of the company’s applications,automated or semi-automated processes for capturing the basic schema information about these applications,and some way of linking or tying data elements from one schema to another.

Many products tout their inherent architecture as a major benefit, namely that their product presents some sort of semantic “centralized hub and spoke” model. Key features of this architecture, in addition to the typical features described above, are a language or representation for building a common, unified data (or information) model (e.g., Common Information Model) spanning the data structures of the application systems of the corporation, a technique and notation for relating the application data structures to this unified model, and the nearly universal marketing pitch touting how the centralization reduces and removes the redundancies and inefficiencies inherent in any alternate design not using their centralized hub approach.

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