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Database Design

Turning Good Data into Good Information:

Good information really is the holy grail for decision-makers at all levels, but particularly those at the higher levels of management.

Distance from the cash-generating processes of an organisation is unfortunately directly proportional to the importance of decisions made at that level. The decisions a board-level executive makes influences more processes than those made by a middle manager, yet the senior man or woman is further away from the action, and intuitively disadvantaged from making effective decisions regarding processes at the lower level.

This is a problem.

A problem inherent in large organisations, and to some extent simply a fact of life. But a key weapon in fighting this effect and getting essential information in the most effective format to those who need it is your database.

This informational aspect of database design is a challenge, but one with rewards that, depending on the size of the enterprise, really can be limitless.

But it’s a tricky business. Data on it’s own is all but worthless in it’s informational value to managers. Information built on shaky data, meanwhile, is worse again, actively encouraging bad decisions throughout an organisation. This gives us two key requirements for database design with regard to decision-making:- data must be accurate, and tools to effectively process this data and transform it into good information must exist.

Different levels of decision-making require wildly differing types of information. Operational personnel may require information of a narrow scope to aid them in making ground-floor minute to minute decisions. Managers in the middle tiers focus on strategic planning, and require a broader amount of information to effectively implement tactical directives from on high. Executive-level managers, meanwhile, will require a broad range of vital, much compressed information from within the organisation and without.

These users will make use of differing tools specific to their decision-making level, all of which will link to the same or interlinked database(s). Tools such as Executive Support Systems for higher levels of management, and Management Information Systems for mid-level decision-making will make wildly differing demands on the database system.

Safe and stable compatibility of the DBMS with these various and disparate software systems is thus essential, as is the stability of the system across multiple users. Provision must also be made for external data and information for ESS and other tools which tend to take environmental factors into account.

The role of the DBMS in all this is that of support. It has to provide a stable and versatile platform for multiple users, and interaction with higher-level languages and the applications they support.

It must provide security for the data within, and robustness in dealing with inevitable system errors.

The wider the audience the DBMS will have to cater for, the greater is the importance of the planning stage.

Getting tactical information to tactical thinkers, processing strategic information for strategic mid-level personnel, while handling transactions, operations … a DBMS’s work is never done.

While some disgruntled users of inadequate database systems will swear that bob-a-job-ing Boy Scouts must have been responsible for implementing the DB architecture, the sheer scale and scope of the job makes it a task so rich in subtle complexity that it could well be the greatest challenge facing large organisations into the future.

As Baden Powell would say, Be Prepared.