Every organization running more than one system has a need to synchronize data. For different systems the type of data may be different but it is still just data. In all cases you have a "source" system and a "target" system. Wikipedia defines data synchronization as "the process of establishing consistency among data from a source to a target data storage and vice versa and the continuous harmonization of the data over time."
The reasons for synchronizing data are infinite. We typically synchronize data based on one of three broad categorizations: application integration, business intelligence and identity provisioning.
Application integration fills the need of directly synchronizing business data directly between otherwise disparate systems. In a corporate environment this might mean synchronizing inventory data from an inventory tracking system to an ordering system. In an education environment data synchronization is used for cases like synchronizing "free and reduced lunch" status from a child nutrition system to a student information system. In all cases, there lies the basic need to extract data from the source, perform data transformation, implement logic and then load the resulting data into the target system.
Business intelligence requirements are slightly different. Instead of synchronizing data between systems, the focus here is to pull data from many sources to populate a central data warehouse. The primary purpose of the data warehouse is to provide a single target for defining reports that help the business operate and make decisions based on the data that it has in its various systems. For education we use that same architecture to build a student data warehouse that combines student data from systems like the student information system, child nutrition, transportation, grade book, library, etc., to provide parents with an aggregated view of their child data. In the case of business intelligence, data synchronization is key; however, we are still abiding by the same basic principle that we are simply moving data from source to target, with some intelligent logic in between.
Finally there is the matter of identity provisioning. Identity provisioning is a wonderful example of data synchronization. For this purpose you can automate account creation and lifecycle management by synchronizing identity information from your authoritative systems such as your HR or Payroll application. In those systems you track hires, job assignments, manager relationships, transfers, terminations, etc. By extracting and transforming this data, you can create accounts, manage group memberships, move accounts, disabled accounts, etc, without any human intervention. Even though these solutions can be extremely complex, one thing remains true: we pull data from a source system, we transform and perform logic operations on the data, and we push that data to a target system.
In case you feel like none of these scenarios are applicable to your organization, ask yourself this: Do we export text files and send them off to some person or organization? Do you receive files from elsewhere and import them into your systems (after perhaps some manually data cleansing). Do you get a spreadsheet of events and then use that information to manually make changes in your systems? If you answer yes to any of these, then this is very applicable to you. File import/export/transfer, etc. is definitely included in the application integration category. Same with manual entry BASED on data from another system. Notice above I did not specify the means of synchronizing the data, just that data from a source was synchronized to a target system.
So, why does this matter? Why am I so interested in the topic of data synchronization? Well, the reason is simple and, for me, very exciting. Let me explain. I've been in the IT industry since 1991 when I joined the USMC as a computer programmer. Since that time I have dealt with every data synchronization method possible. Since 1998 my job has strictly focused on this very subject. It's been called many things but really I've specialized in data synchronization solutions. One thing I've learned to be certain is that the technology that is available on the market today is too complicated and too resource intensive! Customers are required to spend significant dollars to implement these solutions and then can't support them once implemented. Projects can take months, sometimes years, to deploy. Today I came across a quote by Albert Einstein. It is now my favorite quote of all time: " Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." I couldn't have said it any better myself, Albert!
I'm proud to say that Identity Automation is building software that is all about getting back to the data basics. Our data synchronization tool, the Data Synchronization System (DSS), was designed to be easy to learn, easy to use yet still have the capability to handle any data synchronization need. How did we do this? How did we achieve the unachievable? Simple. We focused on the basics: we are synchronizing data from one bucket to another. It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that. Of course, the design of the user interface has a lot to do with it too. Instead of developing a tool with a lot of wiz-bang crazy cool features, we stuck to the basics. First of all, you define your projects from any flash-compatible browser running on any platform. Secondly, there is no new language to learn. All capabilities of DSS are defined as actions. These actions are listed in your browser session. To use them you drag them into your "Action Set Desktop", click on them and fill out the appropriate property values for that action. Simple, right?
Of course, reading about it can only give you so much of an appreciation of such a tool. Please visit our product page on DSS and definitely give us a call so we can demonstrate some of those capabilities.
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