Monday 17 August 2015

Should your Data be in a Database?

5 Benefits of a well-designed database

Why Data is Difficult

It’s tempting to think that data isn’t difficult to manage.  It doesn’t have emotional problems, complain of having a bad day, or be prone to phone in sick.  Isn’t data factual and therefore easy to pin down?  If only ….

Data, as far as business is concerned, is often far too fluid for most managers’ liking.  Consider data about people. People inconveniently get married, change their jobs, and get older.  But surely business data is easier? If only companies didn’t close down, move premises or change the nature of their business, things might be easier.  And then arguments break out about what data should be held, and how to categorise things.

Yet whatever type of data you need to manage, the way you hold and manipulate that data is either a source of competitive advantage or a giant headache.

Many companies or departments still hold significant amounts of data in spreadsheets or paper-based systems.  Whilst paper–based systems are rarer than they used to be, they still exist.  Paper can’t be deleted, it is highly visible (if bulky) and it gives the manager a sense of solidity and permanence.  And of course spreadsheets are very quick and easy.  Yet both spreadsheets and paper have serious limitations.

5 Benefits of a Well-Designed Database

A relational database is a robust way to hold data.  It has five big benefits that neither paper nor spreadsheets can compete with.
  1. A database creates a centralised data store.  When data is centralized it is shareable, and accessible from anywhere, particularly if the database is held in the cloud.  Holding data in one place means you get a full picture, instead of a number of partial views.  And it reduces possibility of duplicate data. Centralised data can be properly secured, backed up, and password protected. 
  2. Organised data. Most well-designed databases are professionally-designed databases.  That means that a certain amount of rigour in requirements analysis and data design has been applied. Stakeholders have been consulted, and differences of opinion aired resulting in a design that everyone agrees with. A well-designed database makes it easy and quick to find what you need, and to add more information in the correct place.  Spreadsheets may be easy to create, but quickly get muddled and unwieldy.
  3. Databases love analysis.  Databases are ideal for looking at data in multiple ways. So the same data set can be presented in differently either for different audiences, or to help understand the data better.  For the most part, spreadsheets present data in one way only.  Whilst it is possible to change the order of data using a spreadsheet it is both limited and error-prone.  Databases, on the other hand, are designed for many different types of analysis.
  4. Databases Improve Data Quality.  Databases are designed to improve data quality in a way that no other tool can.  By tightly defining the type of a data that can be added to a given field, or by adding business logic, you ensure that the right type of information is entered.  Look up tables ensure consistency in data entry so no matter how many people are using the database, your data is still in good shape for analysis and reporting purposes. 
  5. Data is Future Proofed.  Whilst there is much talk of big data, some systems start small and then grow.  You may only see the need for a recording a handful of attributes but over time that may change.  Databases are designed to let you add more attributes, and more records, all without penalty.  Spreadsheets, on the other hand, get more difficult to manage as attributes and records are added.  Holding information in a database also enables you to join data sets together, to get a fuller picture of your business.  
A databases is more complex to set up than a spreadsheet, but offer a great deal more as data is safeguarded and improved over time.  Unless you are dealing with very small amounts of data, the effort in setting up the database is a small price to pay compared to the benefits.  There are significant advantages to a business in going through the process of deciding what data to hold, consulting stakeholders, and defining business logic behind the data.  The exercise always throws new light on data, and new insights into business processes.

In today’s internet-enabled world, data is no longer a business after-thought.  Whatever the nature of your business, data about customers, competitors, operations and much else now lies at the heart of the organization. 
Anatec Software is a team of specialists in Microsoft SQL Server, the world’s most trusted relational database.  We focus on thorough requirements analysis, database design and development, as well as performance turning.  

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