In many organizations, data gets stored in different databases using different formats.  The structure of those databases can differ a little or a lot, as can the language used for queries.  And some databases include certain bits of key data, while others do not.  The end result is largely the same: though all of the information might be contained within the organization, accessing it can be difficult.  Browsing is unreliable, but more specific queries can easily miss important information.  Adding, modifying, updating, and displaying this information takes much longer than needed.

So many organizations face these challenges of data organization that it should have a name.  Let’s call it the Babel Problem.  Here are the five tell-tale signs that your organization has a Babel Problem:

  1. Certain key pieces of information (current sales numbers, customer incidence reports, website search behavior, etc.) cannot be had, or cannot be gotten in “real time”
  2. Different departments or “silos” cannot share data (or do so “manually” by email, cutting and pasting, etc.)
  3. A decision maker will make a decision lacking a key piece of information, only to discover that another department or location had that information all along
  4. Workflow bottlenecks occur because employees need to re-enter data into different systems, or access multiple systems in order to answer questions
  5. Customer information is not readily available for customized user experiences

If one or more of these symptoms occurs more than once, or with any regularity, this is evidence that you have a Babel Problem, and that it is having a sustained effect on your productivity.  Addressing Babel Problems is where Extract-Tranform-Load (ETL) systems come in handy.  ETL helps integrate data across an organization so that it will be useful and timely.