If you need to track names, contacts, processes, transactions, or client information, you need a system. Once the system exceeds 150 records or you want to involve multiple people at different locations with your records, then there is a good chance that a database could be helpful to you.
Developing a database that is more complex than a simple list is a commitment of time. So take the leap after thoughtful consideration. I do not want to dissuade you from developing a database — they are quite useful and sometimes positively enjoyable — but the world is littered with databases that were abandoned or not used as they were intended because of inadequate preparation and design before the build.
The first step developing a database is to look at what you need from it: the reports and lists that you will reference. Also, is there information that you will need to pull up periodically, whether it be on an individual basis or as a filtered group? This information and how it is displayed forms the basis of what and how you track information.
The second step is to review and diagram your process flow. Information that you need and want to collect may be entered in one session. Or the information could be entered in several steps. One or more people may be responsible for managing a particular record and related contacts.
The third step is to create a data dictionary of all the information that will be collected and then normalize this information into an entity-relationship diagram. In other words, translate the information into relational database-speak.
So Where’s the Database?
The first three steps are an essential part of any database development process. To varying degrees, they can and should be completed separate from the database. Depending on the complexity of your project, you may choose to have these steps completed as a first phase and then put the product out for bid by a database developer.
There are many kinds of databases. As you read this page, what you are looking at is a piece of information that was put through a multi-step process of being stored, retrieved, and formatted from a MySQL database. MySQL is an open-source system that is used by many people for online database needs. Some databases work well online. Others work well on desk top or client-server systems. You might also choose your database based on your platform (i.e., Linux, Windows, Mac). Some databases, like Salesforce, live on servers in Cloud computing.
There’s no one database that will work for all situations. Narrowing down which one to use depends on your business needs and budget and the development team with whom you want to work. You and your development team are entering into a partnership, so select someone with whom you want to work.
Final Words: Golden Rules of Databases
Regardless of the complexity or type of database, these principles hold true.
- Databases do not save time. Often they create more work. What databases allow you to do is access information in a more complex and efficient manner.
- Collect what you need and not necessarily what you want. All information should be treated as important. If it’s not, then it is difficult to maintain data quality.
- Databases are only as good as the information that is put into them. Inputting clean data is much simpler than finding and cleaning dirty data after it has been entered.
- If staff are not trained on how to input and retrieve data, then they cannot properly use the database. Where training is not possible (i.e., you are collecting information from the public) you must instead control and limit what is entered into the database.