When I started this company, I spent most of my time designing and developing databases.
This is not because I love databases, but because for most small and medium sized companies, especially those in service industries, the efficient and effective handling of data is essential if their IT systems are to be used effectively.
Over the years I have built up considerable expertise in using databases, mainly Microsoft Access. I don't choose Access because it is a particularly good database, but because it's what most clients have on their machines.
A databases is a way of getting the information you already have on your computer into a form which allows you to ask questions and get information. One of my clients runs a business dealing in second-hand agricultural equipment, which he sells on commision. His database keeps track of his 'For Sale' list, and he can print out an up-to-date list any time. His his web site, UCPE.com, is updated each time he adds a new batch of equipment, or makes a sale. It also keeps track of his invoices and mailing lists. Being on a database allows him to get at the click of a mouse information which previously could have taken hours to find.
Donít be afraid of Databases
You already use a lot of databases Every time you boot up your computer, you use a database. Databases are fundamental to computing. A computer is a device which holds data. A database is the structure which organises that data. Your computer screen is a window into a database, in this case one which knows where to find files on your computer. Personal information managers Ė programmes such as Microsoft Outlook Ė are databases. Accounting programmes such as Sage are databases.
Data without structure has no value. A bank holds information on money. If that information was simply a load of numbers, it would be valueless. Add information to the numbers: date, account number, type of transaction, and so on, and you can find out if youíre in the black or in the red. Imagine a dictionary in which the words were listed in a random order. It might be fun, but would be virtually useless as a source of definitions and spellings of words. A database doesnít have to be files on a computer. A card index file is a database, an address book is a database, a recipe book is a database, and can be very useful. For one thing, you donít need to boot up a recipe book before you can use it!
A card index of addresses can only be arranged as a series of cards. The principle on which that arrangement is made can vary Ė alphabetically by contact name, or by company name, or companies in a particular industry sector grouped together. A computerised database is not restricted to a single order. Once the data is added, it can be sorted and analysed in any number of ways. You could look for companies in a particular area, or in a particular industry sector using the same set of basic data. Of course, you could do this by hand and draw up a list using a set of cards, but it would take you a long time. A computer can do it in a fraction of a second.
and out how you run things
If your want your database to be useful you need to work out how you do things at the moment. This can be a valuable exercise. It forces you to think about why you organise things in a particular way. There may be better ways of administering your organisation. It takes time to develop a good database. It requires understanding on the part of the designer of how a business operates, and forces businesses to make decisions on how they want to run themselves.
and they donít cost much
Once upon a time databases were heavyweight applications which had to be compiled by teams of experts, were very inflexible and cost an arm and probably both legs. The vast increase in computer power and speed over the years has changed that. Programmes like Microsoft Access allow you to build useful databases which can grow and adapt as more functions are added very quickly.
time is money
It will take an investment in time to create a good database. That investment will pay for itself many times over by speeding up dramatically routine jobs in the office. One of my clients can now do in minutes what used to take half a day. As with all computer applications, databases donít do anything you couldnít do given enough time. So how much is your time worth?