For the average Joe, information technology (IT) is a mysterious universe filled with indecipherable programming languages and expensive hardware. Eavesdropping on IT technicians is almost like overhearing a conversation spoken in a foreign language. But despite this seemingly impenetrable language barrier, it can be critically important for decision-makers in businesses and organizations to understand the world of IT. One of the most important IT concepts is data integration.

On the surface, data integration sounds like a simple idea. Because many organizations store information on multiple databases, they need a way to retrieve data from different sources and assemble it in a unified way. For example, let's imagine that an electronics company is preparing to roll out a new mobile device. The marketing department might want to retrieve customer information from a sales department database and compare it to information from the product department to create a targeted sales list. A good data integration system would let the marketing department view information from both sources in a unified way, leaving out any information that didn't apply to the search.

In reality, data integration is a complicated discipline. There isn't a universal approach to data integration, and many of the techniques IT experts use are still evolving. Some data integration approaches might work better than others for an organization, depending upon that organization's needs. We'll take a close look at some of the general strategies IT experts use to integrate multiple sources of data and enter the world of database management.

What are the basics of data integration? Find out in the next section.