Category Archives: Astera News and Views

Facing the New Energy Future

How a Major Electric Utility Customer Improved Business Agility

Today’s utilities are facing a lot of uncertainty about the future direction of their business and industry. Market forces such as the democratization of energy, the popularization of solar energy, the impact of decarbonization, and changing demand patterns caused by electric cars and fluctuating gas prices could mean new business models or regulator environments for electric utilities.

Staying Competitive Through Business Agility

With all of these challenges, utilities need to find a way to remain competitive. Enter the growing concept of business agility, or the ability to quickly adapt to changing market and customer needs. A key component of business agility in this environment is partner relations. Utilities will need new technology and energy acquisition partners and will need to manage those relationships efficiently to improve their business agility and keep pace with industry changes.

Data is a Bottleneck

But here’s a situation that happens all too frequently. A company wants to do business with another company, executives do the negotiations, promises are made, a deal is struck. Then it comes time to integrate data and the process slows to a halt because bringing third-party data into a business system gets very complex. If the business analyst can’t do it using a spreadsheet and macros, then the IT team is called in to manipulate the data. All the while, the clock is ticking and the partnership is not moving forward. The partner becomes frustrated and may choose to go elsewhere.

Data integration is a growing solution to this problem that allows utilities to more smoothly and quickly – sometimes within hours – integrate external data files into a business system. Data integration is powerful, but it’s no easy task and therefore has historically been in the realm of IT. But as utilities seek to expand their agility, there has been a movement to simplify this technology in order to provide software that can be used by the data analysts or customer integration teams that are close to the customers.

Energy Acquisition Partnership Example

Acquiring electric energy assets is a great example of the data integration challenge facing utilities.

An energy company and other energy vendors have a heavy need to integrate each vendor’s uniquely formatted data into the main system in order to finalize an acquisition. Too often, energy companies have home-grown or manual systems for this data integration that dramatically increase the time involved in onboarding a new acquisition. However, they also carry the risk of inaccurate information.

This was the case for an Astera energy corporation customer with nearly 400,000 ratepayers. The company received information formatted according to each of its energy vendors’ own systems, which meant manually copying that data into the company spreadsheet. Macros then had to be run in order to produce an output file sufficient for the company’s current acquisition system. The inefficient process was consuming valuable time and resources.

The company’s IT staff wanted to build a uniform process that would import vendor data directly into the acquisition system. The solution had to be able to handle each vendor’s file format, as well as translate some of the vendor-specific terms. The new system would have to be flexible and scalable, because new vendors and their proprietary formats are added all the time.

After evaluating available technologies on the market, the energy company chose Centerprise Data Integrator because it provided an easy-to-use interface that enabled users to quickly map the vendor fields to the company’s own fields.

Centerprise allowed the energy company’s partner team to convert the data, taking a project off of the plate of IT without sacrificing the flexibility, scalability, and functionality required for the energy company’s complex application. At the same time, the team was able to quickly and easily map new vendor data to the main system.

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The company was also able to take advantage of the software’s static lookup functionality to translate vendor-specific codes.

Now, any time data needs to be integrated from an existing vendor, the energy company can open up the transfer setting corresponding to that specific vendor file format. For new vendors, a new transfer setting can be created in a matter of minutes and saved for reuse.

Business agility is a macro solution for many of the challenges that face utilities, but data and data integration are the foundations for making the whole effort successful. Data integration technology is a major step forward and should play a key role in the data processing infrastructure of all utilities.

Additional Resources

Infographic: How Data Integration Drives Business Agility

According to Forrester Research, business agility is “the quality that allows an enterprise to embrace market and operation changes as a matter of routine.” Data integration drives high quality data and low latency for rapid analysis and decision making. Astera Centerprise Data Integrator enables customers to maximize their business agility by integrating data into the workflows of individual departments and business units.

This infographic shows how data integration can benefit key departments in your company:

Infographic – How Data Integration Drives Business Agility

 

Leading the Industry: Astera Data Integration for Business Users

Suddenly data integration for business users, or do-it-yourself data integration, or self-service data integration—whatever you want to call it—is all the rage.

Informatica dubbed 2014 the year of cloud-based self-service data integration.” Solutions Review.com reported in August that Gartner’s 2014 Magic Quadrant for Data Integration Tools market overview highlights two trends for 2014—“a growing momentum for cloud-based integration and demand for self-service data integration capabilities for business-user-facing data preparation.”

We’ve been talking to Gartner for several years about our focus on business users and the need for integration tools that don’t require experienced IT users. Astera specializes in data integration solutions that can be used by business professionals to perform many tasks with minimal IT supervision. This moves projects along faster and frees up IT resources for more mission-critical work. It also puts data integration into the hands of the people who know the data and what needs to be done with it.

While others have been jumping on the bandwagon over the past year, we’ve been honing and refining our user-friendly, code-free interface that prominent customers have been enjoying for a long time now.

For instance, Wells Fargo uses Centerprise for interactive data cleansing and transformation that the business group executes without day-to-day IT involvement. What once took 20 people to accomplish now takes one person and partner onboarding time has been cut from three to four weeks to less than one week.

At AutoTrader.com subsidiary VIN Solutions, IT builds the core dataflows in Centerprise and then the business team builds subflows for day-to-day implementation. Two months of custom coding for new client DMS has been cut to one hour.

Vanderbilt University implemented their integration solution using Centerprise. The easy-to-use front end enables business users to develop complex dataflows in hours instead of weeks.

Raymond James Financial Services uses the Centerprise user-friendly, unified environment for business professionals to quickly create the many complex data mappings needed to transform data into standard format for integration.

E-Book: Data Integration for Business Users

Find out how you can get IT-quality data integration from a business unit team through our free e-book, which you can download here. We also offer an in-depth Data Integration for Business Users whitepaper.

Related blogs include:

DIY: Putting Data Integration Into the Hands of Business Users

Business Users: The Future of Data Integration

 

Check Out Our New Explainer Video

We’re very excited to introduce our very first explainer video. Because it is so key to what drives our software development at Astera, this video highlights how our Centerprise Data Integrator software can be used by business users to accomplish many of the integration tasks that formerly had to be done by IT. It explains that because most data integration software requires programming knowledge, all incoming data must be sent to IT for cleansing and mapping to internal formats. This increases turnaround time and can jeopardize business agility, slowing decision making by days or even weeks, and holding up customer/partner on boarding. Centerprise empowers business users to handle sophisticated data integration on their own using a drag-and-drop environment with no coding necessary.

Check it out!

 

ReportMiner 6.2 for Business Users is Here!

We’re announcing today the release of ReportMiner 6.2. This version has extensive improvements in the user interface that enable business users with little or no technical background to easily accomplish a wide range of data extraction tasks without employing expensive IT resources.

“Astera is renowned for its straightforward, user-friendly data integration software and we’ve incorporated this ease of use into ReportMiner so that anyone, even individual home office users, can now quickly and easily extract data from unstructured data sources, such as printed reports in PDF, text, and Excel formats,” said Ibrahim Surani, president and CEO of Astera.

ReportMiner liberates business data trapped in printed documents such as reports, bank statements, and invoices in popular formats such as PDF, PRN, TXT, XLS, and XLSX. That electronic data can then be integrated into company databases and leveraged for operations and business intelligence applications. ReportMiner saves significant human resource time and dollars in terms of manual data entry and frees up those resources for more important tasks.

Intuitive User Interface

ReportMiner enables users to view the document being mined and define logic for extracting data blocks and fields within these blocks.

Easy-To-Build Model

The easy-to-use interface enables users to manually add a field by simply highlighting the field in the object with the mouse cursor, right-clicking it, and selecting Add Field. A new field is added to the Report Browser and the Report Definition Editor shows all the occurrences of this field in the report.

Hierarchical Data Extraction

Data extraction can be done from complex hierarchical reports in a single pass using the hierarchical model capability of ReportMiner. For example, a data region can have child data regions and the child regions can have their own children and so on.

Single-Click Preview

Single-click preview capability verifies and tests the report model as it is being built. This preview shows extracted data and any conversion or validation errors.

Re-Use Report Models

Report models can be saved and used over and over again for subsequent conversions, saving even more time.

Data Mapping and Export

ReportMiner enables data mapping and export to a plethora of destinations and formats of choice. Supported destinations include databases like SQL Sever, Access, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and any ODBC compatible database; file formats such as fixed length, delimited, Excel, and XML. You can also use your report as a source object in a dataflow, where you can take advantage of the advanced transformations and conversion features of ReportMiner.

Performance

ReportMiner is designed to efficiently process large data volumes. Built from the ground up as a high-performance parallel-processing engine, ReportMiner takes full advantage of today’s multi-core and multiprocessor hardware to mine and deliver your data quickly and efficiently.

Free Trial

The best news is you can test drive ReportMiner and see for yourself how easy it is to use. Download your free trial here.

 

Data Integration Enables University to Analyze $3.2 Billion Endowment Fund

Vanderbilt UniversityIn an article just published by Solutions-Review.com, Jay Mishra discusses how Centerprise enabled Vanderbilt University to overcome the challenge of integrating disparate data from multiple sources in order to maximize return and minimize risk for its $3.2 billion endowment trust.

The university’s Office of Investments manages its $3.2 billion endowment, which provides the university with funding for teaching, research, public services, and more. The Office of Investments wanted to be able to determine consolidated risk exposures of the endowment to better understand the impact of different macroeconomic and market shocks, but this proved to be a very difficult and, at times, manual task because the investment data was scattered across multiple systems.

Vanderbilt ultimately selected Centerprise Data Integrator because it provided dataflow, workflow, and scheduling capabilities, so that the university’s finance team could quickly develop integration jobs to automatically retrieve and map data from external money managers and internal systems into the endowment tracking software.

The Centerprise easy-to-use interface allows the Office of Investments’ business users to map data from source files to  destination files without writing code. This enables the team’s business users to develop complex dataflows in hours instead of weeks. The project has been so successful that Vanderbilt is now deploying Centerprise in other areas to enhance existing processes.

Click here to read the original article.

 

Get Your Free E-Book: Data Integration for Business Users

Astera specializes in data integration solutions that can be used by business professionals to perform many tasks with minimal IT supervision, moving projects along faster and freeing up valuable IT resources for more mission-critical work.

Ideally, data integration should be done by the data analysts or customer integration teams that are close to the customers. Serving these customers is their priority and often they are the same team that has already defined the data integration process for IT anyway.

Could there be a way to get IT-quality data integration from a business unit team? That’s what we will be exploring with this e-book.

 

Data Integration Key for Credit Unions Moving to New Software

One of our customer success stories recently made headlines in the Credit Union Journal.   Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union used Centerprise to migrate its legacy data to a new Fiserv core banking system. With over 400,000 members and assets exceeding $5 billion, RBFCU serves more than 2000 membership groups and communities across the South Central Texas area and beyond, making the conversion project quite daunting.

Credit unions are increasingly investing in newer software and technologies. Embracing new technology is helping these businesses develop innovative new services that give them a competitive edge. Basing these services in the cloud is helping to lower their costs.  Both of these trends mean considering new software systems, which is a challenge to IT departments. One of the biggest issues is mapping years of legacy data from old software systems into fields in the new system.

Data migration issues were blocking RBFCU’s move to a new banking system and keeping it from modernizing its services. Years ago, the credit union internally developed a core banking system to store and maintain member account information. As its membership and product offerings grew, the homegrown solution soon grew to hundreds of tables storing hundreds of gigabytes of data.

Because of the legacy system’s design, the credit union’s ability to develop modern, member-centric software applications was severely hindered. Fitting new products and services into the system took excessive amounts of time and the team was already burdened with completing many regulatory changes to keep the core system compliant, which prevented them from focusing on developing productive software applications.

RBFCU evaluated IBM, Talend, SSIS, and Centerprise and ultimately selected Centerprise because it met and exceeded all objectives.  The learning curve was not too high as the team discovered the interface to be fairly straightforward; developers were able to drop and come back to the tool without having to relearn it.  And, with the Centerprise SQL Source and Lookup components, they were able to leverage and translate their SQL skills right away.  Additionally, the Name Parser component was an unexpected bonus, which saved them additional development time.  What would have taken at least a week with an in-house solution was now getting done in half a day.

Get Your Data Under Control in 5 Steps

Get Your Data Under Control in 5 Steps

Whitepaper: Get Your Data Under Control in 5 Steps

Across every industry vertical and without regard for organization size, there is one fact that remains true: the data deluge is upon us. The much-­‐ballyhooed “Big Data” phenomenon that prognosticators have warned about is here. Whether or not you’re a believer in the transformational power of data, it’s hard to ignore the fact that organizations are simply drowning in data.

Bad and unchecked data growth and management create major headaches for an organization and actually limit overall efficiency. In addition, without good data strategies and tools, organizations miss out on what can be incredible results, including new market opportunities that can be unlocked by data itself, business process improvement opportunities that can be enabled by good data, and improved relationships with existing customers. In short, unmanaged data, non-­‐integrated data, and bad data in general actively cost a company a lot of money.

We’re pleased to bring you a new whitepaper written for Astera by IT expert Scott D. Lowe, co-founder of ActualTech Media and senior IT executive for ComputerWorks, Inc. Entitled “Get Your Data Under Control in 5 Steps,” this whitepaper discusses five steps that companies can take to tame the data beast and provide some potential business outcomes that can be enjoyed when data quality and consistency are firmly in hand. The author recommends that organizations invest in the tools necessary to enable adherence to data governance rules and that provide self-documentation so anyone familiar with the data can manipulate it to meet organization needs. He underlines that that these tools need to be easy to use so that users “don’t need a Ph.D. in data to use them.” A critical tool in this effort is Astera Centerprise, the author says, because end users can easily create their own comprehensive data flows and work flows, rebuild business processes, and achieve data integration efforts that once would have required teams of IT people to accomplish.

Want to know how to get your data under control using these five steps? Download your free copy here>>

 

Six Reasons Why Hadoop is not an Integration Solution

In August our blog, “Why Proprietary Software Can be More Cost-Effective Than Commercial Open Source,” enlightened readers about the potential high costs of choosing commercial open source (COS) over proprietary software. In this blog we build on that theme by discussing the pitfalls of adopting Hadoop as a data integration solution.

In case you’re wondering, Hadoop is a project being built, used, and maintained by a global community of contributors and users. It is an open-source software framework developed for storage and large-scale processing of data sets.

In response to customers showing increasing interest in potentially using Hadoop to assist in data integration processes to support data warehousing and analytics requirements, Gartner analysts Merv Adrian and Ted Friedman defined their position in an article published last year that Hadoop is not a data integration solution.

There is a difference between a platform and a solution. While Hadoop may offer some robust data capabilities, it is not a complete, out-of-the-box data integration solution and can cost far more than the upfront cost of a commercial data integration package.

Here are some key reasons why Hadoop is not a good choice if you are looking for a complete data integration solution:

  1. Development time tradeoffs
    Because Hadoop is not a complete solution, you’ll be investing significant project time and development resources to write custom code that enables Hadoop to perform basic data integration functions.
  2. Availability of Experienced Hadoop Developers
    Developing custom code for Hadoop requires deep expertise in MapReduce coding, a skill set only a small number of developers possess. The skills your existing developers have invested in learning other data integration coding are not transferable for Hadoop, so there will be a steep learning curve.
  3. Data Reliability
    Today’s complex data integration processes must be reliable, with robust monitoring, error handling, quality assessment, and administrative capabilities. Support for these capabilities in Hadoop is limited and there is no functionality for data profiling and quality. You’ll need to invest in third-party tools and custom coding to ensure your data reliability and quality.
  4. Support
    As with other open source platforms, because Hadoop is a community project driven by the contributions of users, getting support when and where you need it is not guaranteed. Support is provided with your commercial data integration solutions, but for Hadoop you will need to rely on finding an answer within the community. Your data integration project completion time could be seriously compromised while you wait for help.
  5. Integration with legacy systems
    Proprietary data integration solutions have developed broad connectivity capabilities to enable integration with legacy systems for data migration purposes. There is little support for integration with other tools in Hadoop, so if you need access to legacy data you’ll have to write custom code and implement complicated ETL processes, adding to your time and development costs.
  6. Standards
    As data becomes more complex, standards are becoming increasingly important. Unlike proprietary data integration solutions that provide sophisticated metadata management, Hadoop has no metadata management, which limits its ability to comply with standards.

Summary

Hadoop has strong capabilities for storing and managing vast amounts of data cheaply and efficiently, but it is a platform, not a data integration solution. If you are thinking of adopting Hadoop for your data integration needs, you should be prepared to hire developers experienced in writing Hadoop code, to invest significant amounts of time and money for these people to turn the Hadoop platform into something resembling a data integration solution, and to allow for long project implementation and completion schedules.

On the other hand, investing in a complete data integration solution like Centerprise Data Integrator will have you up and running with all the technologies and capabilities you need to meet your data integration needs quickly and easily.