noun • [day-tuh kon-ver-shun] • the process of converting data that is stored in one file format into another file format of a different structure
Converting data into formats that help you understand, analyze, and present information is required in all fields of work. Viewing data in a different format can help to unlock new insights that may otherwise go unnoticed. While data isn’t necessarily “hidden” in any format, by converting and restructuring data into something new, you often are exposed to the equivalent of a new perspective. It is this unique perspective that can give you a better and more well-rounded understanding of the data you have.
Data conversion is widely used for reasons related to accessibility. Often data is stored in a specific file format that only certain software can access and read. This is due to the innate structure of the file itself. While this was once a limitation, there are now many strategies for converting data which allows for greater flexibility and enables you to use the data in any way you’d like.
With more and more data being collected, it is inevitable that data conversion will be a task that you complete, no matter how simple or complex the conversion.
Data Structure and Compatibility
The structure of data describes not the data itself, but the file structure that the data is stored in. It is this structure that is programmatically built into software systems that allow them to read the information you have stored in a given file.
For data conversion to be effective, there needs to be an understanding of the structure of the file format that you have the data stored in and the format that you want to convert to. For most, this sounds like an incredibly daunting task. That’s why most people opt for using data conversion software rather than coding a data conversion process manually.
Example: Both a .txt and .doc file are similar formats in that they both are typically used for storing plain text. However, the .doc file structure, unlike the .txt file structure, accounts for formatting and other additional styling information.
File formats have typically been made to work with specific software programs. For example, .doc files were created for Microsoft Word, .dwg for AutoCAD, and .gdb for ArcGIS. While the popularity of some file formats has led to other software systems incorporating support for these files, this isn’t always the case.
This is one of the primary sources and causes of data silos. Without having a data conversion process put in place, data silos are somewhat unavoidable when you are using multiple applications that create, analyze, or store the data. This is another reason why most people opt for using data conversion software. These programs can help you overcome limitations with compatibility and allow data to flow freely.
Example: A .shp file (aka. shapefile) is used to display vector shapes (points, lines, and polygons). While shapefiles have tabular data for the associated vector shapes, this file is not compatible with other tabular software programs like Microsoft Excel.
Lost in Translation?
It’s no surprise that with a process as complicated as data conversion there will be some hiccups along the way. One of the most common (and irritating) issues that often occur with data conversion is losing information during the conversion.
For example, if you convert a .doc to a .txt, you will inevitably lose styling and formatting information due to the structural differences of the files. If you convert a shapefile into an image, you will inevitably lose the tabular data because image files do not support that kind of additional information.
Data conversion programs can help you avoid this issue. In many cases, data conversion programs will offer extensive support for transforming data specifically to help you meet your unique needs. These capabilities make data conversion platforms optimal over the workaround of merely opening a file format in a program and then saving it as a different file format.
FME For Data Conversion
Data conversion software like FME can help you quickly and easily convert data from one format to another. FME supports over 450 formats and applications to help you connect data no matter the structure or level of compatibility the data has with other formats and applications. There is built-in support for the supported file structures so you can read and write data without needing to be trained on the design of any particular format formally.
While you could simply read and write data directly with FME, the main benefit of using FME comes from being able to build custom workflows. Building your own workflow means being able to control the exact way data is being converted.
For example, you may have an AutoCAD DWG file with coordinates that you want to convert into a shapefile. A DWG file is a drawing file used for storing 2D design data, while a shapefile is used to store spatial data. Using FME you can convert your DWG into a shapefile along with the metadata. By specifying that you want your DWG ID information to be stored as an attribute in your shapefile, you end up converting both the visual and descriptive components of your file.
To do this, add transformers to your workflow to transform data before conversion. This will help ensure that the exact data you need is being converted and that you are not losing the information you need. Additionally, you can use transformers for customizations like styling or formatting to help make your results that much better. Creating workflows in FME using transformers means being able to incorporate your specific rules and standards into the process as well.
With FME you aren’t limited to 1:1 data conversion workflows either. If you have multiple data sets that you’d like to combine into a single file, go for it! Alternatively, you may want to breakdown a file into separate, new formats. You can do that too.
What is FME?
FME is a data integration platform that was built with the intention of creating an optimal data conversion solution for data users in all industries. How did we know this was a tool that was needed? Because we too have gone through the trials and tribulations of trying to convert data and knew something had to be done.
FME is recognized as the data integration platform with the best support for spatial data worldwide. However, it can handle much more than just spatial data. FME can help you integrate business data, 3D data, and applications all within the same platform. FME has a range of supportive data transformation tools called transformers that make is easy to integrate over 450 formats and applications. With FME you have the flexibility to transform and integrate exactly the way you want to.
Safe Software, the makers of FME, are leaders in the technology world that strive to stay one step ahead of data integration trends. FME is continuously upgraded to ensure it has been adapted to support new data formats, updated versions of existing data formats, and large amounts of data. Gone is the idea that individual departments must work in their data silos, with IT structures limiting the company’s potential to truly work as one. Data should be able to flow freely no matter where, when, or how it’s needed.