What is Data Blending? Learn the Basics

What is Data Blending? Learn the Basics

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What Is Data Blending?

It can be answered from several different perspectives. The following are the most suitable answers to this question:

Data blending is a method of gathering data from different sources and combining it into one easily consumable dataset. This helps you to see similarities in the blended data and draw useful information from it while minimizing the hefty time and monetary commitment that comes with conventional data warehouse procedures. To help leaders make better-informed decisions, this multi-criteria collection approach helps you to obtain a more complete image.

In other words, the method of associating a collection of organic and observational data with more conventional administrative and survey data is data blending. It combines knowledge collected from planned studies with data sources that are more ad hoc, non-designed, and/or organic (behavioral and digital trace data exchanged at scale). Data blending is vibrant as big data in social sciences gains prevalence.

Moreover, to build a single, new dataset, data blending combines several datasets, which can then be processed or analyzed. Entities now receive their data from multiple sources, and users may choose to put various databases together to check for data relationships or answer a particular query. Data blending tools allow them, among others, to mash-up data from spreadsheets, web analytics, business networks and cloud apps.

Data Blending: Not a New Concept

It is necessary to remember that knowledge blending is not recent. For a long time, several distinct disciplines have been merging, mixing, incorporating, improvising, manipulating, connecting and combining data. The practice defines a process by which data from different forms of the primary or secondary source are combined, including news reports, documents prepared by administrative agencies, industry-generated economic data, non-governmental or non-profit documentation, social science surveys, observational studies, tests, clinical data and the like.

Data Blending: A Historical Perspective

We see that the notion of data blending emerged as a subject of interest in the computer science community around late 2013. At that time, software programs such as Tableau were providing a form of "data mixing" aimed at enhancing efficiency and experience for the user population segment whose primary data interface was via the tool itself (as opposed to power users who were able to integrate several data feeds themselves and therefore did not need this convenience).

Suppose one is interested in integrating spreadsheet-based data (for example, in Excel or a local .csv file) with data stored in an enterprise data management system, maybe Oracle or Hadoop. The way this approach works is as follows. To realize this workflow, a business analyst will usually need an exchange with the team responsible for data engineering or ETL. In 2014, data blending meant that the BI tool was able to provide this feature directly to the end-user by, for instance, abstractly treating Oracle and Excel as relational stores and using metadata specified by the user or enterprise to reason about the required linking structure. At this period in history, the workflow of data blending consisted of:

1) Defining the data sources that you want to blend

2) Explaining some metadata about the desired join to the tool

3) Conducting some standard cleaning and sanity tests against the results

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Benefits of Blended Data

The main advantage of using blended data is that it saves a lot of time for your analysis. Analysts spend most of their working hours (about 80% of them) planning, washing and constructing datasets, according to Forbes. This suggests that only 20% of the time spent by a data scientist is spent extracting valuable information from a dataset. If the collection/preparation process was more successful, imagine how much more knowledge your organization could derive from these analytics. Data blending allows, to a degree, to improve the efficacy of data preparation.

The knowledge provided by or accessible to organizations is often growing. Without involving data scientists or other experts, data blending will speed up the consumption of that data. In areas such as sales, marketing or finance, data blending tools may give non-technical users fast results. Users in a marketing department, for example, could combine data from a CRM system and a spreadsheet with information on product profitability. Then they will easily see which goods not only make the most money but also draw the most buying interest from consumers.

When to Use Blended Data

Typically, when you want to, data blending is most beneficial for:

  • Analysis of data from various granularity/detail levels
  • Combine data without the same dimensions or metrics (e.g. Oracle, SQL, Excel, etc.) from different databases
  • Decipher mass data volumes

Data Blending Steps

  • Recognize and obtain information from the sources you would like to use
  • By defining common dimensions between primary and secondary data sources, combine the acquired file for data use and interpretation
  • Thoroughly clean the data, delete any bad/irrelevant bits and create a usable dataset for further review

Analyze Your Details

For business users to explore data for their deeper knowledge, both Alteryx and Tableau provide nice interfaces. Data blending views are based on a primary source of information, a secondary source and a dimension (link) region, much like a joint. Blended data self-serves software, unlike data joining.

To find a dimension that connects your data sets, you can have automated data discovery. Return just a view of your aggregate data, keeping your data sources unchanged. They are excellent at managing data of varying degrees of granularity.

Let's look at a blended data query for data sources with varying levels of detail as an example. Details regarding quarterly revenue targets are provided in one source. The other data collection includes data on the results of each salesperson, week-by-week. For each salesperson's weekly sales, a combination of the two sources will provide a row, which is not the data you want. That kind of duplication is a hint that with blending you'd be better off.

A mix of data sources will combine weekly information into quarterly totals—the outcomes you want. If you have use cases that require blended data strengths and versatility, explore software tools such as Tableau and Alteryx. They are designed for end-users/analysts to gain analytical capacity. Also, note that your entire data pipeline can be managed by Panoply. To quick-track data cleansing and planning, it uses machine learning, so the source data is ready for review in minutes. Panoply is also versatile enough to work with any other method you choose for visualization.

Appropriate Practices for Blended Data

  • Make Consent When Required:

Certain information has been anonymized and released, so it is not possible to obtain consent. However, it is necessary to obtain consent in cases where the data is not made public by a user, or in cases where the user probably assumes that the data is not publicly shared. And if the secondary analyst does not know the subjects identities, the original analyst does not understand the subjects’ identities. To obtain their approval for the new intended use, they must be approached with an explanation and a request to recontact the subjects. It is an appropriate intervention of successful research in the study.

  • Data Harmonization:

It is important to unify the steps to build a functional blended data set while blending multiple data sources that contain similar constructs that are divided proportionally. As more data sets are combined, the similarities and differences in variables are approximately the same, and new variables have generated that account for the error term and bias for each data source and level is a significant step in the process of data blending.

  • Keep a Record:

It is hard to keep track of the sources of the various data elements once data is blended. Furthermore, holding information about the provenance of the data is significant. What was the data value of the original? From where was the data obtained? To merge or connect the data, what variables were used? What were the algorithms and parameters used to construct new variables? Maintaining a thorough account of how the data set was blended, the information produced would help ensure the credibility of the information. That's just as necessary to give proper attribution to the data generated during the blending process.

  • Understand Algorithm Basics:

Physical processing is not an alternative, given the amount of data we are now dealing with. It is a requirement to use computing power, if not for precision, then because of the number. Each used algorithm makes assumptions about the underlying data, such as how the data is typically distributed or has a certain form of skew, and how the data is grouped. This means we can compare the optimized functions and the effect, i.e. the sensitivity of the parameters, of any initial parameters. Only knowing these two characteristics helps us to compare various algorithms and to consider the variations between the results.

  • Test for Fairness:

Since models evolve for a feature, they are not built to identify prejudices due to inadequate, disruptive or unequal training data that may occur in their architecture. It is the responsibility of the researcher to provide such information, especially social science researchers who are looking for generalizability from predictive models. Fresh measures of justice are being built and can be used through a statistical population to determine certain resources or even levels of accuracy.

  • Transparency:

Each technique of measurement is subject to error. However, errors in sampling, estimation and coverage can be exacerbated by integrating several data sources. Here we introduce the definition of Total Data Error (TDE), a way to understand critically how errors from each of its parts are found in a mixed dataset, how these errors might interact with, compound or probably mitigate one another. At each point of survey design and implementation, TDE can be modeled on Total Survey Error (Groves & Lyberg, 2010), which considers errors. TDE provides greater transparency associated with massive, mixed datasets (Bode, 2018). It requires that researchers

1) Understand

2) Consider

3) Disclose the decisions they make, the assumptions of their models, and the sources of error from each dataset of components, and how theoretically or empirically those errors can relate to each other.

Ethical Issues When Data Is Blended

Data ethics is evolving as a new discipline that explores issues relating to the processing of responsible data, data usage and data inference. To create better ethics, the development of organic data sets and open government data sets containing millions of data points has led to many ethically dubious practices that must be revisited. This segment introduces numerous challenges and problems that need to be considered when we consider combining various sets of data.

It is possible to obtain a vast amount of personal, and even sensitive, information from personal devices and online social media accounts. Most of this information can be accessed using APIs and applications without the individuals generating the information receiving express consent. Big data is also used by researchers to assign missing data values from surveys and other administrative data sets without approval.

When do they need specific consent? In certain circumstances, is implicit consent reasonable? How can basic standards for consent and data ethics be updated to handle the availability and use of these types of information? Consideration of consent issues often contributes to broader concerns regarding ownership of records, protection and the right to be forgotten. What are we going to expect from businesses handling our data?

When data is mixed with using massive, online sources, user consent is not the only ethical problem posed. A secret to working with massive sets of data is data mining and machine learning algorithms. Each algorithm, sadly, produces a model with its assumptions that are not easily obvious to researchers using the knowledge they produce. Such hypotheses can lead to various prejudices and can even contribute to models of issues of justice. A model constructed using skewed or imbalanced training data, such as more male than female cases, is likely to do a better job on predictions affecting the majority class, such as males in this example. As Amazon created a machine learning algorithm for choosing candidates, this exact scenario occurred. (Dastin, 2018)

This dependency on decision-making learning algorithms without a cause for concern is the awareness of the unconscious prejudices incorporated into the model. When using black-box models instead of explainable ones, this is much truer. From an ethical viewpoint, what standards of reliability and fairness are reasonable? Although there are various metrics for measuring algorithmic justice, which is better used for different learning tasks and different data types?

Also, we will make them more recognizable when we merge and integrate data than each of the original pieces were individual. In this case, it is the act of mixing the data that opens the door to breach of privacy and confidentiality. In short, social science research has always faced privacy, consent, bias, and fairness concerns, but in the age of data mixing with publicly accessible organic data, the effect of these ethical issues on research and available methods for resolving them are greater and less well known from sources.

Responsible data collection requires careful consideration of the rights of participants at all phases of the study process. It starts with privacy and confidentiality considerations in the design of the original collection of data for which a researcher is liable. It continues to the stage at which the researcher decides to share information with others and takes care to anonymize the information in terms of direct identifiers as well as the values of specific variables that could be used to identify an individual because of relatively unique values, as measured or created.

It extends to the treatment of results from the combination of multiple data sources that could improve the ability of others to identify specific individual units that could be deanonymized using online searches for the sharing of individual anonymized posts. New policies need to be developed to protect subjects as we begin to understand the various harms that can occur at various stages of the research process.

Data Blending Tools

The Two Self-Service Data Preparation Tools Categories

In two types of self-service software, data preparation and blending characteristics are found:

  • Platforms for visual analytics such as Tableau, Qlik Meaning, Spotfire, etc.
  • Best-of-breed tools for data planning, including Datawatch Monarch, Alteryx, Vero Analytics, etc.

Visual analytics tools are essentially graphical user interfaces with little to no support from IT to perform analytical operations on results. Since data analysis often begins with planning, a variety of data preparation features, including data blending capabilities, are often provided by visual analytics software.

Tableau, the leading framework for visual analytics, has some important features for mixing, such as joining cross-databases. Vijay Doshi, Tableau's director of product management, states that "when similar data is stored in tables across different databases, you can merge the tables by using a cross-database join."

On the other hand, self-service data preparation software such as Datawatch Monarch and Alteryx Creator are dedicated platforms for data extraction, preparation and mixing. These tools can either be used to feed prepared data sets into a visual analytics tool such as Tableau, introduce advanced data analytics, or even produce scheduled static reports such as those produced by conventional, IT-governed recording systems.

What Are the Advantages of Data Preparation Tools for Best-of-Breed?

Many companies would need both a framework for visual analytics and a best-of-breed solution for data preparation. Others will get by with either one or the other. The particular advantages of best-of-breed data preparation software, which we will turn to now, should guide your choice of tool.

Benefit # 1: Enhanced Query Processing In-Database Blending

In contrast to leveraging the power of your laptop or an application server to do the blending, some best-of-breed data preparation tools allow you to blend data within your database itself. This function relies on an engine that is capable of generating multi-pass SQL queries within the tool, i.e. multiple queries, whose results are aggregated into a single collection.

Benefit # 2: Fuzzy Matching for Dirty Data Blending

Fuzzy matching "is an advanced analytics capability that detects approximate matches between values instead of perfect matches automatically." It's a relatively rare feature found mainly in best-of-breed tools for data preparation.

Carlos Oro, Datawatch's director of product management for data preparation, states that "in many situations, when combining two data sources, there are data quality concerns, so we have fuzzy matching included in the solution to extend the collection of results."

Benefit# 3 Extracting from Complicated Formats

The study of data stored in dummy formats such as PDF files and web pages is one major use case for self-service blending and, indeed, best-of-breed data preparation software in general. You can scrape a web page with a solution like Datawatch Monarch and turn the data it contains into an easy-to-analyze table in a matter of seconds.

Self-service data preparation tools may also work with even overly strict formats such as PDF reports. PDFs and web pages are increasingly popular data sources, even for smaller organizations, and best-of-breed tools make it much easier to work for them.

Are There Any Disadvantages of Data Blending Tools?

When merging datasets, some data blending tools cannot retain all the specifics of the data. Data visualization software, for instance, can do blending by simply aggregating data. In this case, from the combined data, users can get fast views and summary information. However, more in-depth data analysis might not be feasible. Users might not be able to ask ad-hoc questions, which may limit innovation and creativity in turn.

What Is the Distinction Between Mixing Data and Joining Data?

While both methods of combining data for analysis are data blending and data joining, there are clear differences between the two approaches. Data joining is when you combine data with the same underlying dimensions from a single data source (e.g. two tables from an Oracle database or two Excel spreadsheets). Data blending takes this method a step further by enabling the user to use various sources in their dataset, even if the sources do not have the same innate measurements or dimensions (e.g. mixing data from an Oracle table with Excel spreadsheet data).

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