So much information and so little time! But is the use of a web scraper really about ‘All You Can Eat’ data downloads or does it pay to be smarter? Even if the age of Big Data is upon us, much of the additional data becoming available is unstructured data, such as comments on social media sites. You can download as much as your web scraper can handle, but you need purpose-built data analysis software to pick out key points and trends of interest. And that’s what organizational management is mostly about: a few, well-chosen key performance indicators (KPIs) that give you the crucial details about what’s happening. Turbocharging your web scraping, therefore, isn’t just a matter of brawn, but a matter of brain, as well.
A web scraper that is part of automation software can provide information for management dashboards like this one.
Smart Automation and Pattern Recognition
Whose brain? If you have to spend hours writing complicated code to pick out the information that interests you, that defeats the purpose of an automated web scraper. It’s better to use a web scraper that has intelligence built into it, leaving you free to pursue other automation activities in parallel. Look for a web scraper application that uses smart automation to record the scraping activities you want, and that knows that you want to access a particular site and select a specific piece of data, rather than just click on position ‘(x,y)’ on the screen (the difference is important). A best-in-class web scraper bringing the most business benefit will also let you easily specify patterns of data to be identified and downloaded, like product prices and descriptions from an online sales catalog, or online driver data for an insurance quote system.
Dealing with the Data Downloads
If massive web scraping is truly your goal, then make sure your web scraper is part of an automation solution that can handle all the information you acquire. It may be best to define an automated business process which takes web data as its input and gives management reports, insights, business plan updates, or similar as its results. Good automation software will let you automate any IT-based activity, from the initial web extraction to loading the data into a spreadsheet or business intelligence application, recovering the results, and generating and emailing reports. The best automation software will also offer additional functionality like a graphical workflow tool to describe process goals, input, and flow, to make sure your web scraper is making a useful contribution to your business.
The API is On the Rise
Using a smart macro recorder to record and play back web scraper actions is one way of extracting data from the web. Nowadays, more and more companies are seeing an interest in providing web application programming interfaces (APIs) for third parties to connect to, in order to download data. SaaS (Software as a Service) company Salesforce.com and retailer Sears both offer APIs, and government agencies are now required to do so under the Open Data Executive Order from President Obama. In this case, the right automation software offers scripting possibilities to either access these data channels directly, for example with the SOAP web service protocol, or to manage other software programs to do so.
The Best of Both Worlds
Automation software that lets you turbocharge your web data extraction both via a smart web scraper and via powerful scripting capabilities brings you the best of both worlds. A large part of what sets it apart from crude scrapers operating in isolation is the ability it gives you to automate a complete business process and obtain useful results.
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