Intercom to Azure SQL Data Warehouse

This page provides you with instructions on how to extract data from Intercom and load it into Azure SQL Data Warehouse. (If this manual process sounds onerous, check out Stitch, which can do all the heavy lifting for you in just a few clicks.)

What is Intercom?

Intercom is a powerful platform for communicating with customers and leads. It provides customer messaging apps for a variety of uses, from targeted messaging to customer support. It offers tracking, filtering, and segmentation functionality on all the data it collects to allow users to analyze interactions to derive business insights.

What is Azure SQL Data Warehouse?

Azure SQL Data Warehouse is a cloud-based petabyte-scale columnar database service with controls to manage compute and storage resources independently. It offers encryption of data at rest and dynamic data masking to mask sensitive data on the fly, and it integrates with Azure Active Directory. It can replicate to read-only databases in different geographic regions for load balancing and fault tolerance.

Getting data out of Intercom

You get data out of Intercom using the Intercom API, which offers access to endpoints that can provide information on users, tags, segments, conversations, and more. For example, to get data about a conversation, you could call GET /conversations/[id].

Sample Intercom data

The Intercom API returns JSON data. Here's the kind of response you might see when querying for the details of a conversation:

{
  "type": "conversation",
  "id": "147",
  "created_at": 1400850973,
  "updated_at": 1400857494,
  "conversation_message": {
    "type": "conversation_message",
    "subject": "",
    "body": "

Hi Alice,

\n\n

We noticed you using our product. Do you have any questions?

\n

- Virdiana

", "author": { "type": "admin", "id": "25" }, "attachments": [ { "name": "signature", "url": "http://example.org/signature.jpg" } ] }, "user": { "type": "user", "id": "536e564f316c83104c000020" }, "assignee": { "type": "admin", "id": "25" }, "open": true, "read": true, "conversation_parts": { "type": "conversation_part.list", "conversation_parts": [ //... List of conversation parts ] }, "tags": { "type": 'tag.list', "tags": [] } } }

Preparing Intercom data

Once you've figured out what you want to pull down and how to pull it, you need to map the data that comes out of each Intercom API endpoint into a schema that can be inserted into your database.

This means that for each value in the response, you need to identify a predefined datatype (i.e. INTEGER, DATETIME, etc.) and build a table that can receive them. The Intercom API documentation can give you a good sense of what fields will be provided by each endpoint, along with their corresponding datatypes.

Complicating things is the fact that these records are not always "flat" – in other words, there may be values that are actually lists. This complicates things because it means you'll most likely to create additional tables to be able to capture the unpredictable cardinality in each record. (The "tags" value in the data above is an example of this.)

Loading data into Azure SQL Data Warehouse

SQL Data Warehouse provides a multi-step process for loading data. After extracting the data from its source, you can move it to Azure Blob storage or Azure Data Lake Store. You can then use one of three utilities to load the data:

  • AZCopy uses the public internet.
  • Azure ExpressRoute routes the data through a dedicated private connection to Azure, bypassing the public internet by using a VPN or point-to-point Ethernet network.
  • The Azure Data Factory (ADF) cloud service has a gateway that you can install on your local server, then use to create a pipeline to move data to Azure Storage.

From Azure Storage you can load the data into SQL Data Warehouse staging tables by using Microsoft's PolyBase technology. You can run any transformations you need while the data is in staging, then insert it into production tables. Microsoft offers documentation for the whole process.

Keeping Intercom data up to date

At this point you've coded up a script or written a program to get the data you want and successfully moved it into your data warehouse. But how will you load new or updated data? It's not a good idea to replicate all of your data each time you have updated records. That process would be painfully slow and resource-intensive.

Instead, identify key fields that your script can use to bookmark its progression through the data and use to pick up where it left off as it looks for updated data. Auto-incrementing fields such as updated_at or created_at work best for this. When you've built in this functionality, you can set up your script as a cron job or continuous loop to get new data as it appears in Intercom.

And remember, as with any code, once you write it, you have to maintain it. If Intercom modifies its API, or the API sends a field with a datatype your code doesn't recognize, you may have to modify the script. If your users want slightly different information, you definitely will have to.

Other data warehouse options

Azure SQL Data Warehouse is great, but sometimes you need to optimize for different things when you're choosing a data warehouse. Some folks choose to go with Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, PostgreSQL, Snowflake, or Panoply, which are RDBMSes that use similar SQL syntax. If you're interested in seeing the relevant steps for loading data into one of these platforms, check out To Redshift, To BigQuery, To Postgres, To Snowflake, and To Panoply.

Easier and faster alternatives

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t be alarmed. If you have all the skills necessary to go through this process, chances are building and maintaining a script like this isn’t a very high-leverage use of your time.

Thankfully, products like Stitch were built to move data from Intercom to Azure SQL Data Warehouse automatically. With just a few clicks, Stitch starts extracting your Intercom data via the API, structuring it in a way that is optimized for analysis, and inserting that data into your Azure SQL Data Warehouse data warehouse.