Jan 24, 2023

Did you know that Microsoft released Excel in 1985, at a time when new wave music dominated the radio and big hair was all the rage? Nearly 35 years have come and gone ─ and much has changed, but not everything. Professionals may have adopted new hairstyles and altered their musical tastes, but they haven’t yet let go of Excel ... it’s still used to manage various data sets to fulfill certain downstream needs across your organization. Don’t get me wrong ─ Excel’s a great tool and one that you should leverage. However, you should use Excel to target the analysis of final/complete/view-only data. If you use Excel for more than that today, it’s time you added another tool to the toolbox: a data preparation tool. And the best news of all is that most data operations teams responsible for managing data require very little help from IT to put a data preparation tool in place.

Benefits of a Data Preparation Tool

Data preparation tools arose out of the need of data scientists to wrangle data into shape to generate insights. However, it turns out that these tools can do the same job for everyday data manipulation needs in groups across the firm, from the front office to operations. They’re relatively end-user friendly, don’t require significant IT involvement, and allow users to gather data from multiple sources (databases, Excel, PDFs, etc.) and set it up for analysis or further use. For a firm, this generates huge savings on resources and time. Compared with Excel, data preparation tools provide a more controlled environment, better connectivity to data sources, and enhanced delivery to the downstream locations needing the data.

Data Preparation Features

Key features of a data preparation tool include the following:

  • Data Enrichment ─ includes data from multiple sources to create richer datasets
  • Low-Code Data Transformation ─ easily handle lightweight data transformation
  • Data Blending ─ bring data into a normalized view
  • Data Quality ─ quickly discover and validate quality issues
  • Data Visualization ─ data review via field level charts, scatterplots, and colorizations
  • Data Exploration ─ review variables and identify opportunities for improving data quality

Popular Data Preparation Tools

While this is not an exhaustive list, some well-known vendor offerings for data preparation tools include the following:

  • Alteryx
  • Altair Monarch
  • Datameer
  • EasyMorph
  • Matillion
  • Paxata
  • Talend Data Preparation
  • Trifacta Wrangler

Moving Forward With Data Prep

Although it may be fun to wax nostalgic about the ’80s, firms don’t have to rely on 35-year-old technology to solve today’s complex data challenges. To reap the benefits and success that other firms have achieved by putting these data preparation tools in place, you do need to establish guardrails ─ for example, best practices for self-service. If you’re interested in learning more about self-service data analytics, check out the Best Practices for Self-Service Data Analytics infographic. Cutter members can also watch our CutterCast on Data Preparation Tools.