The business face of data integration

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It has been apparent for some time that a major emphasis in the data integration space has been on business users. Or, more precisely, it has been clear that that was where vendors wanted to go with their products. However, hitherto, there has been a paucity of business-focused capabilities, at least in the products offered by the major providers, although there has been much talk of such facilities within roadmaps and the like.

However, this has all changed with IBM’s recent introduction of Information Server FastTrack and the complementary Business Glossary Anywhere which, between them, give IBM a significant advantage over their main rivals.

The general point is that data integration has traditionally been the domain of the developer. However, just as with application development, there has always been a potential gulf between what the user wanted and what the developer provided, with the latter working to a formal specification that was subject to both change and misinterpretation. Bridging this gap is what leading vendors have been talking about for some time and there have been bits and pieces of offerings introduced by the various suppliers but nothing comprehensive until now.

So, what does FastTrack do?

Put simply, it allows business users to create the initial specification of an ETL (extract, transform and load) or other data integration process, which can then be used as the basis for collaboration with developers (depending on the complexity of the project) and/or to automatically generate DataStage jobs as well as relevant reports and documentation. At the same time FastTrack can also populate the Business Glossary with new business terms, along with details of their relationships to their physical counterparts (tables, columns and so on).

The Business Glossary, which provides what its name suggests (that is, it tells you what things mean), has been available for some time but there is now a new product called Business Glossary Anywhere. This deploys the Business Glossary as a pop-up window that you can launch from any application (web-based application, dashboard, portal, email clients, MS-Office products and so forth) so that you can quickly find out the meaning and definition of relevant terms that may appear in, say, a report. The full functionality (search, lookup and so forth) of the Business Glossary is provided.

I have to say that I am impressed with both of these products. Business Glossary on its own was nice but it was a bit ho-hum, but with Business Glossary Anywhere and FastTrack IBM has taken a significant step forward in providing business-focused capabilities for data integration. Further, data integration has always represented a predominantly bottom-up development environment; FastTrack opens up the possibility of top-down approach that can help to remove the mismatch than can so easily occur between business users and the development team.

While I expect other data integration companies to introduce further business focused capabilities in the coming months and years, for now at least IBM has a significant advantage in this area, when compared to its leading competitors.