Best data modelling tools

Data should inform your every decision, but first you need to work out how

3D graph emerging from a tablet display

Data is essential to the day-to-day operation of most businesses and is arguably the most valuable asset any single organisation controls. However, in order to extract true value, a company needs to be able to glean insights from this data in order to make informed business decisions.

To make sense of what can sometimes be a vast amount of information, companies often turn to data modelling tools, software that's designed to translate data into a more easily readable format. These tools help organisations discover the exact nature of the data they control, the relationships between datasets, and how best it can be exploited in day-to-day business processes.

Models vary in their scope and functionality but are typically applied as part of a database management system. The types of data that a model handles are also usually stringently controlled to ensure processes are built using only data that is relevant. What's more, these tools provide a means of generating insightful data reports for decision-makers elsewhere in the business.

All data modelling tools are built to speed up the process of creating a structured overview of data, but there are subtle differences between the leading platforms. Below is a list of the most widely used modelling tools around, and a rundown of why they're so popular.

Lucidchart

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Lucidchart allows data to be modelled visually and collaboratively. It's a pretty flexible web-based programme and allows for a whole range of different models to be created, including system design, brainstorming, project management and more. There are plenty of templates and libraries available to make your datasets look professional with little effort.

Lucidchart is also well-priced, making it a very competitive alternative to SmartDraw. There are, however, different levels of licence - free, Basic, Pro and Team, each offering different usage limits, depending on how many users will need access and how often you need to create models. For example, the Basic account offers unlimited shapes and documents, with 100MB storage, while the Team offers access to multiple users and team management, plus import and export from Microsoft Visio and AI features.

It uses a simple drag and drop interface that makes it an effective solution for the majority of use cases. Re-sizing objects is a breeze and moving objects around comes as second nature, making for a very intuitive user experience.

The only drawback of Lucidchart is that it's only available for use via a web interface rather than a desktop application, making it a little clunky and reliant on a web connection to function.

Oracle SQL Developer Data Modeler

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Using Oracle SQL Developer Data Modeler, users can create, browse and edit logical, relational, physical, multi-dimensional, and data type models. The Data Modeler provides forward and reverse engineering capabilities and supports collaborative development through integrated source code control. Data Modeler can be used in both traditional and cloud environments. 

SAP PowerDesigner

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SAP PowerDesigner on a laptop, desktop and smartphone device

PowerDesigner offers fully integrated models and various modelling techniques. It supports a metadata repository and different output formats. The user interface has some useful help documentation too, to help with various user problems.

SQLDBM

SQLDBM interface

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This offers users a convenient way for designing databases anywhere on any browser, working without the need for any extra database engine or database modelling tools or apps. It can be used to design and manage both large and small databases and data models, and can incorporate any database rules and objects such as database keys, schemas, indexes, column constraints and relationships. 

ER/Studio

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This data modelling tool supports single and multi-platform environments and integrates with big data platforms such as MongoDB and Hadoop Hive. The tool can forward- and reverse-engineer various models, compare and merge functions and is able to create reports in various formats (XML, PNG, JPEG). Routine tasks can be automated, too.

AquaData Studio ER Modeler

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The Aqua Data Studio Entity Relationship Modeler (ER Modeler) helps design complex database models for all major RDBMS vendors and versions. It has a forward-engineer feature to model entities and converts them into SQL Scripts, or reverse-engineer existing databases to visualise a database model. Models can be converted from one database vendor to another using the Convert feature.

Sparx Enterprise Architect

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This data modelling tool helps organisations build robust and maintainable systems and can scale to service large teams collaborating on shared projects. The tool can run a dynamic model simulation to validate the accuracy of models and offer a better understanding of how specific business systems function. 

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