Beginning Database Design: From Novice to Professional - PDF
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Everyone keeps data. Big organizations spend millions to look after their payroll, customer, and transaction data. The penalties for getting it wrong are severe: businesses may collapse, shareholders and customers lose money, and for many organizations (airlines, health boards, energy companies), it is not exaggerating to say that even personal safety may be put at risk. And then there are the lawsuits. The problems in successfully designing, installing, and maintaining such large databases are the subject of numerous books on data management and software engineering. However, many small databases are used within large organizations and also for small businesses, clubs, and private concerns. When these go wrong, it doesn’t make the front page of the papers; but the costs, often hidden, can be just as serious.
Where do we find these smaller electronic databases? Sports clubs will have membership information and match results; small businesses might maintain their own customer data. Within large organizations, there will also be a number of small projects to maintain data information that isn’t easily or conveniently managed by the large system–wide databases. Researchers may keep their own experiment and survey results; groups will want to manage their own rosters or keep track of equipment; departments may keep their own detailed accounts and submit just a summary to the organization’s financial software.
Most of these small databases are set up by end users. These are people whose main job is something other than that of a computer professional. They will typically be scientists, administrators, technicians, accountants, or teachers, and many will have only modest skills when it comes to spreadsheet or database software.
The resulting databases often do not live up to expectations. Time and energy is expended to set up a few tables in a database product such as Microsoft Access, or in setting up a spreadsheet in a product such as Excel. Even more time is spent collecting and keying in data. But invariably (often within a short time frame) there is a problem producing what seems to be a quite simple report or query. Often this is because the way the tables have been set up makes the required result very awkward, if not impossible, to achieve.