What is Extract, Transform, Load (ETL), and How Does it Work?

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What is Extract, Transform, Load (ETL), and How Does it Work?

We’re surrounded by unprocessed, raw information called data. Data helps us in different aspects of life, from education to business, healthcare, and everything in between.

What we achieve with data depends on where it is found and in what form.

Sometimes, a tweak of the form and location of data may be necessary.

Extract, Transform, Load (ETL)

You’ve probably heard of this computing term. This is viewed as data transfer from one system to another.

ETL is used to transfer data from any source to your preferred form of data storage.

Many businesses adopt this, especially in critical decision-making. Thus, they hire ETL developers for this specific job.

In a broad sense, data is extracted (pulled) from the source, transformed into a more manageable form, and finally uploaded into the data warehouse for storage and use.

This three-step process is much like moving houses…

We would most likely start with deciding what to take, packing it in boxes (transforms your load), and loading it into the truck for transportation.

Unlike moving, ETL is a lot more technical and requires developers, analysts, testers, and top executives.

We will be using the analogy of moving houses to break down the process of ETL. We will attempt to take the process in bits to get the hang of it.

Read right on if you wish to find out how it works, the benefits, and the difficulties!

How Extract, Transform, Load Works

ETL systems and vendors vary. It can be a slow process. The top vendors have high speeds presented in terabytes per hour.

You would usually require a good ETL system, ETL tools, and a thorough understanding of the process and how it works.

In the new system, the transformed data appears in another form.


This first stage involves the sourcing of data from different outlets. Of course, this may be similar or different; the data will be presented in many different forms.

At this stage, it is important to double-check that the data is high-quality and from compatible sources. A similar step during a move would be deciding what belongings you’re moving with and gathering the bits and pieces of your old home together.

This is the baseline, the most important, and the slowest phase. It takes a bit of time to complete. To reduce the time wasted, the three EPL processes all go on simultaneously. Extraction has to go right, or the rest of the process will be rocky.

Data is presented in different forms and sources, including APIs, non-relational databases, XML, JSON, CSV files. Data sources must be checked and confirmed to be valid to remove any spam data.


You may wish to pack your stuff into travel-safe padded boxes to ensure smooth, safe transport, especially of your breakable items.

This next step is the same idea.

The sourced data must undergo this step before being loaded. The ‘transform’ step does this separation in a data cleaning function.

The sub-steps will include the following:

  • Ensuring that only the desired columns appear.
  • Ensuring that the codes match between the exchanging systems.
  • Conversion of the characters into much simpler forms.
  • Final conversions/calculations of currency and others.
  • Presenting it in grids and columns for at-a-glance comprehension.
  • Merging data from different sources and de-duplication.
  • Aggregating.
  • Transposition of the rows and columns of the tables.
  • Splitting columns multiple times and merging these into one final column.
  • Thorough data validation.


When the data is trimmed, transformed, and ready, it is downloaded in a final but crucial step. There is a specified destination. Loading ensures that the new data is successfully copied into this.

In ETL, the prepared data is uploaded into a preferred store. This may be a data warehouse or something else. There are variations, depending on what the business requires. They may compile data and overwrite existing info in a cumulative process or do timed updates at the set frequency.

The decision to keep or discard depends on what the business requires. People can keep a detailed history and audit trail of changes made to the data judiciously in a more complex system.

The ‘cleaned data’ is coalesced and neatly presented in this phase.

Benefits of Extract, Transform, Load

  • An invaluable business intelligence tool for decision-making. It is an important part of business intelligence that greatly boosts business insights. Being armed with real data from your business enables you to make smarter decisions.
  • A pool of useful data is important. This integrated process affords you valuable data integration. It brings all the valuable data together.
  • Furnishes a business with priceless historical backup. ETL offers a rich bank of the business’s progress so far.
  • A good method of data transfer. This is the core of the process. ETL makes this seamless if well designed.
  • Helps with data verification. The process provides checks at many points. Invalid data is not accepted.
  • Useful for healthy comparison between the source of data and the final user.
  • Helps improve productivity.

Difficulties Faced in Using Extract, Transform, Load

These could occur at different stages and with different components of the ETL process. With a good design, these challenges are reduced. Your data source and target system should align easily for a seamless ETL.

Below are some of the difficulties that may occur here:

  • It can be complex. However, a good team can make all the difference. Operational problems may result from the poor design of the two exchange systems.
  • The mapping between the source and the destination system may be suboptimal.
  • Getting data from an unstructured data source can be quite difficult.
  • The business’ demands may shoot up, increasing data load, Can DashboardFox which could be hard to keep up with at lower speeds.

How Can DashboardFox Help in Extract, Transform, Load (ETL)?

Dashboardfox doesn’t do ETL. Let’s make that statement upfront.

DashboardFox does a great job at extraction. DashboardFox can do a limited set of transformations. But DashboardFox is 100% read-only; we never write to the database, so there is no Load component.

Note: One exception to that is when it comes to our API as a data source integration. We do an API query, fetch the data, and then store it locally in our created database tables.

In fact, in many environments, DashboardFox eliminates the need to do an ETL process, which can save a business quite a lot of money. Instead of packing up all the data and moving it to a new house, DashboardFox can query all the data where it lives and merge and transform data in memory if needed.

While this sounds good, there are limitations. DashboardFox will only query databases (and in the near-future API endpoints), so if you have other types of data, and ETL process is most likely needed to load it into a database. Also, in some cases, the joins are so complex or the amount of data so large, in-memory operations don’t make sense.

Assuming you have a data warehouse or data lake (or even a data silo), this is where DashboardFox comes in to complete your tech stack.

There are a few things that set DashboardFox apart from the competition, and these are factors that can help you choose us over the others. Some of those include:

Self-Hosted. ETL will surely touch on data security, as it is with every process in business intelligence. DashboardFox runs on a self-hosted and on-premise setup, which means that no bit of data will reach the wrong hands. You have the power to give access to those who need specific kinds of data without exposing it to everyone. No leakages and security breaches are insight when it comes to DashboardFox.

No more desktop installations. With DashboardFox, you don’t need anything to install on your computers to use your business efficiently. DashboardFox is the answer to all your data gathering and reporting needs. With a simple interface, you can customize dashboards for any organization in any industry without losing the branding aspect at all.

Affordable costs. Some BI tools offer only the basic features, thus forcing you to avail more features for an additional cost. With DashboardFox, you will get all the basic and premium features for your ideal BI tool that will not make you spend more money.

In fact, we will only charge you once, and that’s it.

DashboardFox has no subscriptions, and an affordable one-time payment is enough for you to experience the whole deal — no hidden charges, no additional costs, no sneaky charges.

Of course, we have more things to offer to the table, but consider these as appetizers. To check out the whole deal, feel free to book a live demo for free to see what we have up on our sleeves. We’ll be waiting, okay?

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