Data marts are subsets of data warehouses that provide valuable business insights. They come in various types - Independent, Dependent, and Hybrid - each type has a unique architecture and function.
While data marts and data warehouses serve as repositories for business data, they differ in scope and usage.
Creating a data mart involves a systematic process, starting from identifying business needs to implementation and testing.
Data marts can significantly improve decision-making and operational efficiency but also have potential challenges, such as data consistency issues. Several real-world examples showcase how businesses successfully leverage data marts.
To navigate the complexities and opportunities of the current data landscape, businesses need solutions that can help them maximize the potential of their data assets.
Data marts are one of many data management and analytics tools used to create fast-paced and accurate data environments. These systems are a subset of data warehouses that help produce in-depth insights that lead to data-driven decision-making.
In this article, we will explain what a data mart is, the different data mart types, the benefits of implementing them, and the steps to do so.
What is a Data Mart?
A data mart is a specialized subset of a data warehouse that serves the analytical needs of a specific team or business function within an organization. They help streamline data analytics and business intelligence efforts.
Data marts are created by ingesting structured data from the existing enterprise data warehouse or directly from data source systems focused on a particular subject or business area.
Marts store transactional data in rows and columns, similar to a relational database. This makes it easier for analysts to access relevant and pre-processed data for analysis, reporting, and decision-making purposes. They can also contain historical data.
Types of Data Marts
There are three main types of data marts:
1. Independent Data Mart
This is a standalone data mart that is created and maintained separately from the enterprise data warehouse. It addresses the analytical requirements of a particular business unit.
The data in an independent data mart is extracted directly from source systems without going through the central data warehouse. This approach offers more flexibility and autonomy to the business unit, allowing them to have greater control over the data modeling and reporting processes.
While independent data marts provide greater agility and responsiveness to the needs of individual business units, they may also lead to data redundancy and inconsistencies if not managed properly.
2. Dependent Data Mart
This type of data mart uses the enterprise data warehouse as its data source. It is a subset of the existing data warehouse, created by extracting relevant data and transforming it to meet the requirements of a team or use case.
The dependent data mart architecture offers a more controlled and standardized approach to data management, ensuring consistency in data definitions and reducing the risk of data discrepancies.
Dependent data marts can avoid redundant data storage and maintenance efforts by leveraging the central data warehouse. However, they may lead to performance bottlenecks if the data warehouse is not optimized for analytical queries.
3. Hybrid Data Mart
A hybrid data mart combines aspects of both independent and dependent data marts. It can integrate data from both the enterprise data warehouse and additional external data sources or operational systems.
Hybrid data marts provide centralized and standardized data from the existing data warehouse, like a dependent data mart, while also offering the flexibility of incorporating data from multiple sources.
Hybrid data marts are ideal when teams need a mix of structured data and specialized data catering to certain projects. They support large-scale storage needs and require minimal data cleansing.
Benefits of Implementing Data Marts
Data teams utilize marts because they provide three key advantages:
1. Improved decision making
Data marts provide focused and relevant data to different departments, giving decision-makers easy and quick access to information.
They also support the in-depth analysis of a particular subject, such as sales, marketing, or finance. This specialization allows users to gain deeper insights and enables analysts to identify data trends and patterns that might have been overlooked in a larger data warehouse.
Marts offer faster query and reporting performance as they contain a focused subset of data. For example, in independent data marts, queries don’t have to scan through large-scale datasets or the entire data warehouse. This speeds up analytical processes.
Real-time or near-real-time data in data marts can support timely decisions that enable organizations to respond promptly to market changes and capitalize on emerging opportunities.
2. Increased operational efficiency
Data marts streamline the analytical process by pre-aggregating, transforming, and organizing data according to the requirements of each department. This reduces the time and effort needed for data preparation and analysis.
The organization’s overall efficiency improves with data marts catering to specific areas of interest instead of the full data warehouse. Different teams can focus on their core tasks, leveraging data insights to optimize their operations.
Users can also perform self-service analytics within their marts, reducing their dependency on IT teams for data retrieval and analysis. This empowerment of users leads to informed decisions that boost daily operations.
3. Better data management
Like a data warehouse, data marts support data governance by enforcing consistency in data definitions and usage within each domain. This ensures that business units are working with accurate and standardized data.
Data marts also provide a controlled and secure environment for data access, enhancing data security, safeguarding sensitive information, and preventing unauthorized access to critical data.
They also enable organizations to manage data growth effectively. Since each mart is dedicated to one subject or function, it becomes easier to scale the system as the business expands.
Data marts are cost-effective storage solutions. Since they focus on specific needs, they require less storage and processing resources than a centralized data warehouse or data lake. This can lead to cost savings and optimized resource utilization.
The Architecture of Data Marts
The key structural elements of a data mart include:
Data sources refer to the systems or databases from which data is extracted to populate the data mart. These sources could include operational databases, transactional systems, spreadsheets, or other external data repositories.
The data is extracted from these sources through various methods like ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) or data integration tools.
ETL processes extract data from the source systems, transform it into a format suitable for analytical purposes, and load it into the data mart.
These processes involve data cleansing, data validation, and other transformations to ensure data quality and consistency.
ETL is a critical component of the data mart architecture as it prepares the data for analysis and reporting.
The data storage component comprises a database management system (DBMS) optimized for analytical queries, such as a relational database or a columnar database.
Data in a data mart is organized into tables, where each table represents a specific subject area or fact type (e.g., sales, customers, products) and contains related dimensions (e.g., time, location, category) to facilitate data analysis.
Fact tables contain quantitative and measurable data for analysis, such as sales revenue, quantities sold, or website traffic. These tables store the numerical metrics that are the basis for analytical queries and reports.
Fact tables are also denormalized and linked to dimension tables using foreign key-primary key relationships to enable meaningful analysis across different dimensions.
Dimension tables have descriptive attributes that provide context and additional information about the data in the fact tables. For example, dimension tables in a sales data mart may include information about customers, products, time, and locations.
Dimension tables are denormalized to optimize query performance, and they establish relationships with the fact tables through primary key-foreign key relationships.
Data Mart Schemas
There are two main schemas used for data marts. They are:
The star schema is a simple and widely used data mart schema design. It consists of one central fact table surrounded by denormalized dimension tables.
The fact table contains the quantitative data and links to each dimension table through foreign key relationships. Each dimension table represents a specific attribute, and they are not normalized to avoid complex joins, resulting in faster query performance.
The star schema is preferred when query performance is a priority and simplicity is essential. Its denormalized structure allows for efficient and straightforward querying, making it suitable for most data mart scenarios.
The snowflake schema is an extension of the star schema but with normalized dimension tables. In this design, dimension tables are split into multiple related tables.
Each level of a dimension is stored in a separate table, forming a snowflake-like structure when visualized, hence the name.
The snowflake schema is valuable when data integrity and space optimization are critical. By normalizing dimension tables, it reduces data redundancy and ensures consistency, particularly in large-scale data marts.
Data Mart vs. Data Warehouse
Here’s a table highlighting the main differences between a data mart and a data warehouse:
The two storage solutions mainly differ in the scope, scale, and complexity of data. They also serve varying use cases within the organization. Our comparison of data warehouse vs. data mart covers these differences in detail.
Steps to Create a Data Mart
Building a data mart involves five steps:
1. Identification of business needs
Understand the business needs and requirements of the target users utilizing the data mart. Use this information to determine the scope and focus of the mart. This will also help choose the type of data mart to use.
For example, independent data marts are better for ingesting data directly from data sources. They are suitable for short-term projects or smaller teams within an organization.
Engage with stakeholders and subject matter experts to get detailed information about the specific data elements and metrics needed for analysis.
2. Design the data mart
Define the data model and schema for the data mart. This includes identifying the fact tables (containing quantitative data) and dimension tables (containing descriptive attributes) required for analysis.
Choose an appropriate schema design depending on the analytical needs and data management requirements.
Establish relationships between the fact and dimension tables, defining primary key-foreign key relationships for data integrity.
Develop the ETL process to extract source data and transform it to match the data model of the data mart.
Transformation involves data cleansing, validation, aggregation, and other manipulations to ensure data quality and consistency.
Load the processed data into the data mart, populating the fact and dimension tables.
4. Implementation and testing
Create the data mart structure in the chosen DBMS, ensuring it can efficiently handle analytical queries. Once the data is loaded into the mart, conduct testing to verify data accuracy and performance.
Perform user acceptance testing (UAT) with the target users to validate that the data mart meets their requirements.
5. Deployment and maintenance
Deploy the data mart to the production environment, making it accessible to the intended users. Set up appropriate security measures to control data access and protect sensitive information.
Once implemented, monitor performance and usage to ensure it meets the evolving needs of the business users.
It’s also important to regularly update and maintain the data mart to accommodate changes in data sources, business requirements, or technology advancements.
Collaboration between business analysts, data engineers, and other stakeholders is crucial throughout this process. Continuous feedback and iterative improvements are also essential to keep the data mart relevant and effective.
Potential Challenges with Data Marts
Building and managing data marts could lead to several challenges:
Difficulty in Managing Multiple Data Marts
Managing and coordinating multiple data marts can become challenging as an organization grows and different business units create their own data marts.
Each data mart may have its own data models, integration processes, and governance policies, leading to potential data silos and redundancy.
Data duplication across multiple data marts can also increase storage requirements.
Data Consistency Issues
Since data marts are typically developed independently for specific business units, ensuring data consistency and uniformity across different marts can be a significant challenge.
Marts may have variations in data definitions, calculations, or time periods, leading to discrepancies in analytical results and decisions.
Inconsistent data can erode trust in the accuracy of the information and hinder effective cross-functional analysis.
Integrating data from various source systems into data marts can be complex, especially when dealing with diverse data formats, quality issues, and frequent data updates.
Integration processes must be carefully designed and maintained to ensure data accuracy and timeliness.
Data integration issues may lead to delays in data availability, slowing down analysis and business intelligence efforts.
Data Security and Governance
Different data marts may require unique access permissions and adequate authorization methods for users. This is crucial to maintain data confidentiality and integrity.
Data governance policies must be well-defined and consistently applied across all data marts to enforce data quality, privacy, and regulatory compliance.
Depending on the design of data marts, performance issues can arise when dealing with large volumes of data and complex analytical queries.
Poorly optimized data models, denormalized data structures, or inefficient integration may lead to slow response times, affecting the user experience.
As data volumes and user demands grow, data marts may face scalability challenges, particularly if they were initially designed to cater to specific, smaller-scale requirements.
Scaling up data marts to handle increased data loads and concurrent users may require significant infrastructure and resource investments.
Data Mart Use Cases
To better understand how marts can help businesses, here are three real-world use case examples:
- Marketing and Advertising: Data marts can help analyze campaign effectiveness, customer segmentation, and social media engagement. Marketing and sales data marts assist in optimizing strategies and allocating budgets more efficiently.
- E-commerce: E-commerce companies can use data marts to understand customer preferences, shopping habits, and website performance. They enable teams to personalize product recommendations, optimize marketing campaigns, and improve customer experience.
- Human Resources: Large organizations can employ data marts to analyze employee performance, turnover rates, and workforce demographics. These marts aid HR departments in making talent acquisition, retention, and employee development decisions.
Data marts play a crucial role in enabling organizations to extract valuable insights from their vast and diverse datasets. They empower decision-makers by focusing on specific data relevant to certain business functions or user groups.
They enable data analysts and organizations to gain more accurate and in-depth insights. These conclusions can lead to better internal business processes, improved customer experiences, and drive innovation.
When implemented effectively, data marts help businesses harness the power of their data, gain a competitive edge, and make data-driven decisions that drive success and growth.
Our Content Hub can help you learn how to make the most of your data and create efficient data management processes.