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Data Integration 101: What It Is and Why You Need It

Data integration means combining data from different places so that it’s easily accessible and usable by anyone in your business. Integrating data means that you know that the data you rely on to run your business successfully is accurate and up-to-date.

That’s important, because your business deals in data constantly. Every time you interact with a customer or supplier, you gather data about people and products. You can use this data to improve your service, analyze progress and drive growth.

The need to integrate data

Even small businesses tend to gather and record data in more than one way, using more than one software package to record it. Typically, a business might use a CRM (or customer relationship management system) to record data related to sales and marketing, and an ERP (or enterprise resource planning system) to record data related to business processes such as inventory, accounting and ordering.

Using more than one system means it can be difficult for staff to access data. Staff from one team will often need to look at data held by another team. For example, a member of the sales team, who usually deals only with the CRM, might want to have access to a customer’s financial details, held on the ERP. As a quick fix, businesses often resort to manually copying data between systems so that it’s available to all.

The risk of this is obvious: people make mistakes. When data is manually copied, it’s inevitable that mistakes will be made and that data will be incomplete. It’s also impossible for data to be available in real time when it’s copied manually. Alternatively, team members might go through a time-consuming process of asking those on another team for help. This is similarly risky — information might be incomplete and unreliable.

How data integration works

Data integration automates the process of sharing data between different systems. Any information you enter in one system becomes instantly available in any other systems you’ve integrated it with. This is most often the ERP and the CRM, but other integrations are possible. Data integration software can be off-the-peg, completely custom made or somewhere in between. This means that you don’t need to integrate all your data if it doesn’t suit your business to do so. You can pick and choose what you want to share, and what you want to keep with one particular team.

What happens when you integrate

Data integration gives you accurate data — but what does that mean for your business?

Data integration means that:

  • You can build better relationships with your customers. Your staff will be able to answer questions faster and anticipate demand and potential problems more easily.
  • You can analyze and plan, as you’ll be able to see everything you need to know about your business and its customers in seconds.
  • You’ll save money and time, as you’ll avoid the work involved in manually copying data.

Data integration simply makes sense — particularly as your business grows. You might have survived so far without it, but if you’re an ambitious business looking to grow, data integration is a must.

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