In the modern workplace, data integration skills can help you supercharge your career. Regardless of what kind of job you have, it’s likely you will be working with some kind of software. It might be a cloud billing system, an appointment scheduling system, warehouse software, or even just email. Most software applications are driven by data inputs and outputs. If you have even basic competency with data integration, it can open up many opportunities for you to automate tasks and leverage data to solve business problems.
By using data, you can increase your impact at work. More impact means more opportunities, career progression, and often bigger compensation.
Let’s look at how data integration skills can improve your career.
What are the benefits of data integration in a non-technical job?
Whether your job is in accounting, business development, customer service, human resources, logistics, or manufacturing, there’s a pretty good chance data integration techniques could save you time by automating repetitive tasks.
With all the talk about robots and AI eliminating jobs, you may question whether automation is a good thing. If you can use data integration to automate portions of your job, won’t that signal to management that your job may be expendable? In my experience, employees that embrace technology and use it to be more effective tend to outperform those that resist technology.
If there are significant parts of your job that cab be automated and you don’t do something about it, eventually your employer will. In some cases, this could involve offshoring your job to a country where labor is less expensive. Or it could be addressed by larger software or automation initiatives which could result in significant changes to your role. Due to the competitive nature of business, there is a continual need to reduce any forms of waste. Companies that don’t continuously improve efficiency lose their competitiveness and eventually die out.
So, given this “survival of the fittest” business environment what can you do?
Take charge of automating your own work. Be proactive about eliminating waste in your individual tasks and processes you work with. This will make you a more effective employee. You will deliver better and faster results which increases your value to your organization. It also demonstrates to management that you are a proactive innovator. It could provide job security, win you a higher rating on your next performance evaluation, and ultimately improve your compensation.
But more importantly you will be demonstrating to you manager and your coworkers how to improve business processes through automation. The improvements you make can be shared with other team members or even with other departments. In some cases, your small but creative automations could lead to a large scale rethink of how your company operates or perhaps even lead to a new product or service.
Hard to imagine doing this in your current job? Let’s talk through an example.
How to Automate Lead Acquisition
Let’s say you have a general sales inquiry email address posted on your company’s web site. You are working on the marketing team and one of your responsibilities is to monitor incoming emails and look for potential customers that are interested in using your company’s service. When you identify a lead based on an incoming email, you log into Salesforce and type up a new Lead entry. This then triggers the sales team to reach out to the potential customer to initiate a conversation. This process has to happen pretty quickly. If you wait too long after the potential customer sends the email, they may lose interest and move onto a competitor.
This process is a perfect candidate for automation using data integration between the email message content and the Salesforce lead API.
It’s highly likely you could implement this integration with absolutely zero programming using a workflow automation tool like Zappier or Microsoft Power Automate. In fact, a quick search of the Microsoft Power Automate site will uncover a pre-existing workflow that does exactly what we’re looking for:
It uses a SaaS product called Parserr which specializes in parsing the unstructured text in email messages and attachments and converting it to structured data which can be more easily imported into databases or other SaaS products.
Salesforce offers many integration options that allow you to load CRM record types like leads, accounts, contacts and opportunities. In fact, here is publicly available documentation about their Leads API:
This is a great example where a simple data integration between two SaaS products reduces your labor and adds additional business benefits. The fully automated process will be faster, which will speed the sales team’s response to the customer and increase the percentage of sales wins.
This makes you more effective as an individual contributor and gets you noticed by your manager. The same integration approach you have taken on this project could be applied to many similar situations in your department or across your company. It’s possible this small success could lead to more growth opportunities at your company. Or possibly it could even be the start of a transition to a technology job, which I’ll explain next.
Common Data Integration Jobs in IT Departments
There are a variety of roles in the typical IT Department that require data integration expertise. Some IT organizations have a team that focuses on B2B integrations or EDI. Legacy EDI messaging is specialized skill and usually requires expertise with specific B2B platforms like WebMethods, OpenText, or cloud-based iPaaS tools (integration platform-as-a-service). Working in a B2B integration team requires cross-functional skills. Besides expertise with EDI specifications and translation software, B2B workers usually need a deep understanding of the back-end systems like the ERP or CRM which are involved with the B2B signals. Soft skills like project management and people skills are critical as well.
Application-to-Application integration is sometimes managed by a specialized B2B integration team, but often it is handled by a general software engineering team. Since application integration usually leverages technologies like REST APIs, webhooks, GraphQL, or SOAP, IT workers with programming skills are often best suited for building these solutions. In these scenarios, engineers use their programming language of choice (like Python, Java, or C#) to connect various application API’s into an automated workflow.
Finally database integration projects involving data warehousing, data analytics, and extract-transform-load (ETL) are usually handled by a database or data engineering team. Database integration techniques are quite different from B2B integration and software engineering tasks. Database integration teams will be handling data in bulk (often big data) which requires technical knowledge of the database system’s native features. Data engineering work usually involves data platforms like Apache Spark, Apache Airflow, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, or cloud-based ETL tools. With rapidly growing interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence, data engineering is becoming a much more common job title in many IT Departments.
Any of these data integration disciplines can lead to a rewarding career path. If you are interested in coding, learning to interact with APIs and write the “glue code” that ties APIs into an integrated workflow will make you extremely valuable to potential employers. Data engineering requires expertise with a particular data platform, but tends to requires less traditional programming skills. Finally, B2B integration work requires the least amount of programming skills, but often requires deeper understanding of business processes and strong soft-skills. All of these roles can put you in a position to solve business problems and create value for your employer.
Starting a New Tech Career
Are you interested in changing to a technology career but perhaps haven’t had time to learn to code yet? Data integration is a route for a non-technical person to transition into a technology career. In my experience it’s far easier for non-technical people to become effective at integration rather than trying to learn programming from scratch.
Instead of learning a programming language, perhaps a better strategy is to learn some kind of data integration tool or technique. For example, quite possible for most individuals to develop functional expertise with cloud integration platforms like Azure Logic Apps or Mulesoft within a few months. You can use the tool for a few side projects or even to solve problems in your day job. This provides you some compelling achievements to add to your resume and attract the interest of technology hiring managers.
SQL is another great skill to learn. The ability to query relational databases with SQL can make you more effective in many non-technical jobs, but it’s also a great way to land an entry level tech job on a data analysis or engineering team. SQL is a query language and it tends to be far easier to learn that an a full programming language. Combine basic SQL knowledge with self-serve business intelligence tools like Microsoft PowerBI or Tableau and you have most of the skills necessary to move into an entry level Data Analyst job.
The key take away is that coding is not the only route into a technology job. If you enjoy programming and it comes naturally to you, then by all means embrace it. Software engineering is certainly a great career path. But for those that can’t easily learn to code or don’t want to, there are many great options available in the data integration and analysis domain.
How to Get Started in Data Integration
Want to leverage data integration to grow your career and make more money? Now’s the time to get started. Obviously the next step is to focus on learning and acquire the skills you need to be effective in these career situations I’ve just described.
The good news is there is a huge amount of great learning content available regardless of the specialization that you choose. Check YouTube or online learning platforms for great content about SQL, business intelligence tools, ETL tools, and cloud data integration platforms. If you want to get started with a more general overview about data integration, try my Data Integration Fundamentals course on Udemy.
The workplace is only going to become more technically demanding over the next decade. Keeping your career skills relevant will require commitment to continuous learning and knowledge acquisition. But for those that are willing to put in the effort, the rewards will be great in this technology-driven economy.
About the Author
John Berry has spent the last 30 years building software and data solutions for some of the world's most well-known supply chains. He believes supply chain and logistics are great career paths for those looking to establish technology careers. He is currently the IT Director for JUSDA Supply Chain Management, a member of the Foxconn Technology Group. In this role he leads a team that develops technology solutions for the global manufacturing supply chain. John is a contributor to the upcoming book The Digital Transformation of Logistics: Demystifying Impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution published by IEEE Press.
Want to learn how to use data integration techniques to optimize business results and supercharge your career? Enroll in John's Data Integration Fundamentals course on Udemy.