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Self-Service Data Integration

Introduction

A “self service” organization, where internal and external customers help themselves rather than being dependent upon others, is a key practice in increasing efficiencies, creating additional business opportunities and decreasing costs for many organizations. Not too long ago, many services were performed by service providers or experts in their respective areas.  Although we are all doing more ourselves, we’ve increased overall efficiencies tremendously.  I am one that always preferred the “DIY” route, so I hadn’t really thought about the extent to which I’d been “Self Servicing”.

Has it really been that long since one had to go to the bank to deposit checks, use an agent to make or change travel plans, or apply to schools by mailing applications and other materials back and forth? Do you call your cable provider when something is wrong, or are you like me go online, get the system to send a reset or refresh command and try and self-serve? Some may chalk this self servicing up to the natural progression of technology and big data, but really those are just the facilitators to a very interesting shift that’s been taking place - the transition into a self servicing era.

In this self service age we are all given the tools and means to address our needs ourselves anywhere, anytime. I am not alone, and in today’s fast paced world most people already expect and want the ability to effectively self serve in their personal and professional lives. After all, who has time to wait for IT to approve access, aggregate data or provide reports anymore?

 

Grow with IT, scale by self-servicing

Self Servicing Data Integration is a set of electronic data services and processes that allow end users to employ the technology in order to perform tasks and access information without requiring the assistance of IT or customer representatives. Many of our customers already came to the realization that rather than outsourcing IT as a short-sighted solution, they need to utilize data-driven IT to make their organizations smarter and more efficient.  This is why more organizations are rewarding data-based thinking and data-driven actions.

IT has long been concerned with the idea of empowering business and end users with the power of self-servicing data integration, and in particular self-servicing data integration in the cloud. Some organizations will likely face some resistance, fearing loss of control and visibility with “external entities” interacting directly with their systems. These fears should be abated with integration governance and  rigorous auditing levels of all systems combined with sophisticated notification mechanisms. Assurance and change also need to come from the top decision makers in every organization. From my experience, IT itself will rarely make a push for such initiative and in many cases it would either be a top executive or a dominant business/analytics group that will get the ball rolling.

 

Identifying self-servicing opportunities

The end goal of so many of our customers is to liberate IT from scaling existing business so that it can assist business growth in new areas.This is the most common need for self-service. For example, if you implement a time tracking or project tracking system, it becomes easy to find out exactly what people are working on. If you find that your IT is busy supporting the onboarding of new customers or maintenance of existing customers on existing applications, it is possible to develop approaches of SSDI to roll off some or all IT activities to the business or end user.

Another good approach to identify a fit for self-service is to look at bottlenecks. If you bring in new business only to find out that your organization is unable to onboard due to bottlenecks in the system, you are looking at a potential self-service opportunity. If you are interested in self-service, you have probably been in the industry long enough to know that the traditional approach of throwing more people at the problem is not a scalable or cost-effective solution in most situations.

 

Empower your customers

At the end of the day, self-service is about empowerment. You need to trust that the empowerment of your internal and external customers will be more productive and conducive to good business than those same entities sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the right thing to happen. Your IT needs to trust that the process and infrastructure set in place will result in better data and less IT involvement and not the other way around. Lastly, you need to make your executives trust self-service by giving them self-servicing services as well, so that they see self-service as the natural progression of marrying technology and business for a lower cost and more scalable solution.

Removing the dependency on IT and empowering the business users is a first liberating step towards implementing self-service. In fact, an organization going that route is already implementing an internal self-service, allowing the business to service itself. Many times the transition into end user self-service goes through internal self-service first.

Recent Self-Servicing Experience

Self-Servicing since 2004

In 2004 I met with a very innovative prospect in the financial services industry. They had challenges reading flat files and XMLs into their backend canonical DB schema. Back then, they told me that while our product is great at transforming data structures, they are looking for ways to move away from an IT-heavy operation into Business Analysts (BAs) driven mapping. They wanted a tool based on an Excel spreadsheet (which is the most widely used tool by BAs) that will allow them to detail the logic and rules of how sources are mapped to the target, and for this tool to then generate transformation assets automatically without IT involvement. The idea was that such a tool would free up IT resources to help with other critical tasks, and would have mappings work done by the analysts who onboard exchange partners and understand the data better than anyone else.

Because we did not have this tool, that prospect went on to explore other solutions to address those needs. However, since it wasn’t the first time we’ve heard that request, we decided to implement it. I took on leading the creation of the first prototype of this effort, which after few incarnations became an official product called Data Transformation Accelerator (DTA). DTA was sunsetted several years ago in favor of Informatica’s XMAP, which is essentially the same idea with a nicer, proprietary UI (as opposed to Excel) and tighter integration into the Informatica platform.

Self-Service DNA

Of course, when you work in an organization that makes it its business to innovate and push the envelope on creativity, good ideas never die. I came back to the same prospect 10 years later under Eccella and this time was lucky enough to make it a customer. They bought the Informatica Cloud and DQ products, both of which Eccella has great expertise with. Interestingly enough, they were still after self-service, but this time driving the empowerment down all the way to the end user for self-services.

Eccella was hired to help them put a solution in place that would allow their own customers to sign up for different service offerings, load raw data, perform basic data manipulation, map sources to targets, and receive immediate data analysis reports and other business services. In the backend we run powerful data scrubbing processes which ensures decisions are being made based on clean and accurate data. All of this is accomplished without any interaction with IT or the business high value resources, onboarding time is cut down to minimum and regular maintenance or format changes are all easily self-served by the end-user. Informatica cloud is completely white-labeled to accommodate for customized, specific process flow and needs, as well as alignment with organizational security policies.

 

I believe Self-Service is the future of the IT industry and I plan for Eccella to take big part to help organizations get there. If you are interested in discussing self-service, don't hesitate to email me at [email protected]

 

Meitav Harpaz
CEO, Eccella Corporation