Cover Your Bases!

From simple customer contact information to multi layered applications for reporting each aspect of a business, company databases come in all shapes and sizes. What size fits you? We’ve outlined some questions to get you on the right track….

Do You Know Where Your Database Is?
Depending on their size and specific industry, most businesses have some form of database in place. Many corporate Web sites are built with content management systems (CMS) that pull information from a database to automate updates, track inventory, document purchases, and ease in updates, etc. These databases can range from simple customer contact information to more complex multi layered applications that have been built to provide reports on each and every aspect of your business or organization.

The implementation of a database often begins with one employee using a desktop software such as Microsoft Access to create a database that will ease their work load. Soon others in the organization start using it and adding to it and before you know it a monster is created. The challenge with this approach is the organization is now reliant on a monster that is out of control and never had any planning or forethought.

Why Not Cover Your Bases?
If your needs are simple to begin with and you have a knowledgeable employee on staff a minimal investment in software can get you on the right track. If your needs are more complex and you need to outsource the work – do your research. Prices vary considerably depending on your needs and the type of database you seek.

Thinking through what you want your database to do is critical in the start up stage. Consider your existing needs, future plans and your expected growth and build a system that can answer your needs before you know how to ask. Do be careful not to go too crazy and add fields that you will never use and nobody is even aware of the function. A complex database that never works quite right and nobody understands is just wasteful and expensive. Create a list of “must have” features and then look at what else you can get for your time and money.

Who Holds The Controls?
When working with an outside vendor, explain your needs clearly and ask questions. Will it be a stand alone database used internally only or does it need to be attached to a Web site backend? Can it be hosted on your in-house server or does it need to live on the developers server? Most importantly, who owns it? If the developer owns the rights and you encounter challenges working with them in the future will you lose your information and your investment? What costs are involved in maintaining the database? Are you locked into a monthly hosting fee and maintenance fee? What is included in this charge? If this approach is not comfortable with you, look for a company who will release all rights and build one that allows you to move it where you choose and doesn’t restrict you to their hosting. There may be more costs up front but the peace of mind and long term savings may prove to be valuable. Also be sure to inquire about ease in regular updates. Will your employees have complete access for inputting changes and updates or do you always have to pay for the provider to make changes?

Once the database is in place keep your investment safe and clean by limiting the number of staff trained to make changes and oversee it. Part of the job of a good developer is to provide clear instruction of use and functionality of all elements. Since people come and go frequently it is important to have documentation developed on how the system works so others can be trained quickly and easily.

How Do You Choose?
Many companies are choosing to go with Web base databases instead of software programs. You will need to weight your options. Some commercial software is pretty powerful and when built correctly it can provide strong functionality, scalability, security and flexibility for years with minimum effort and expense. Considerations of using commercial software is what happens when the software program gets updated and you need to migrate your information to the new version? Will everything be compatible and what sort of time and cost are involved from your provider in the update? Databases built using SQL, or customized data mangement systems, may better serve your needs, now and into the future and allow more targeted features.

When Will I Feel Secure?
There are so many industry specific elements needed to create a comprehensive database to serve your organization needs we can not begin to touch on them all here. Check with your professional associations and similar businesses to get valuable advice on where to begin and what to include. Also, please remember to have a back up system in place for your database! If you are hosting it on an internal server, an individual desktop station or if your developer will be hosting your information, make sure all steps have been taken to secure and protect your irreplaceable data!

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