Data preparation is the meat in the sandwich between data sources on the one hand and business intelligence, (predictive) analytics and visualisation on the other. For some time there has been an increasing trend towards self-service business intelligence and analytics, with user departments licensing tools from companies such as Tableau and Qlik so that business analysts can undertake analysis without needing resort to IT. This self-service approach is fine when it is limited to information that is internal to the relevant department. However, it is increasingly the case that users want to analyse multiple sources of data, often of different types and in different formats, which derive from a variety of internal and external sources.
Such data, as we shall discuss, needs "preparation" in order to put it into a form that is suitable for analysis. Historically this has meant relying on IT, which is the antithesis of self-service. What is now emerging as a new market segment are tools that enable data preparation in a self-service manner. These are the subject of this paper. We will discuss what such products offer, why they are important and what sort of features to look for.