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Database Design

Database Design

I’ve had twenty years Database experience on a wide variety of both applications and hardware.  If I’ve learned anything when it comes to databasing the secret to success is three simple rules.

Simplify where ever possible. 

Plan plan plan!

Always have the end result in focus.

So  many times over the years I’ve been asked to design a database system that covers off and includes every single little thing the client can think of.  While it’s a great ideal and at times makes me look somewhat cleverer than I really am, it doesn’t always produce the results you are chasing.  Remember that for every field that data can be entered into to, some person actually has to enter the data.  While I’m a huge fan of Databases  and I believe they are a fantastic tool for organising work flow and reporting on critical functions.  I’ve also seen and been guilty of at times, creating a huge work load for data entry that really will never be used.  So just keep that in mind when planning one.   A tip for DIY Databasers.  One of the simplest things that is often overlooked is the name field.  Make sure you have two separate fields – one for first name and one for surname.  This way, when you go to personalize letters and the like you can easily have only their first name as a saluatation.  Seems simple I know but I’ve come across many databases where this is not so.

Keep in mind too staff training and turnover.  Whilst some operators are very clinical and enjoy having emense detail about every little thing possible, not everyone is like that.  Far too many times I’ve seen new staff come in and not only have to learn a new system but flounder trying to keep up to date remembering to always have to update the file every step of the way.  Sometimes it can create more work than necessary.  So whilst its important to capture the important information make sure it’s not over kill at the same time.   

 Before you design a database or ask a contractor to do one for you.  Sit down and write an overall plan.  Nothing is worse than beginning a database and then 6 months down the track when you need to do a report you realize some data is missing and for ever more when ever you use that report you analysis won’t be accurate for the yearly overview.  By planning reports you may even then realize some of the fields you first thought you would need, you actually don’t as you won’t be able to use that data in a useful way.

These are some of my tips to assist in designing a Database.

1. Write a list of every field you think you will require.

2. Prepare a list of reports you want to be able to ascertain from the collected data.

3. Calculations.Specifiy how you would like the calculations on the reports to work, ie Do you need the same calculations for sub sections or just the overall grand totals.

4. Ask the end user.  The poeple that use the reports need to have some input as to if they would be happy with the coverage of information.  Do they need more fields? Are the calculations how they imagined. Are there too many fields.

5. Layouts.  Think about simple design.  While more complex designs can sometimes appear to be “flashier’ think of the practical side of actually using them.  While more data fields can always to added at the end of a database design, depending on where the data will be used it can often be very time consuming to slot results into layouts and reports later.

Yours in Design


Belinda Vesey-Brown About the author
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