Database design

Have you ever heard of the carpenter who, presented with any problem, says, "I can fix that with my hammer." A guy with a hammer can solve any dilemma with his favorite tool.

I am a little like that guy, and my tool is databases. But in my defense, databases are a powerful tool for centralizing data, reducing process time, eliminating waste and transforming data into useful information.

If you use spreadsheets to maintain your customer list, quote business or track data, I'm here to tell you that you are wasting a lot of time, and possibly holding up your customer unnecessarily. When spreadsheets start getting so big that it takes a few seconds for the file to load, or when you have complicated relationships between separate files, it is time to consider transferring that load into a database.

What makes Databases so much better than spreadsheets?

Let's say you prepare quotations using MSExcel. You create a template at the beginning of the year with basic cost assumptions: labor rates, overhead, etc., and each time a new quotation is prepared, you use a blank template and perform the calculation. Mid-year, let's say that a major cost input changes. Your current book of business is 20 customers, each of whom buys 10 products, and you need to calculate what the new price should be. What does your task look like? If your quotation tool were a database, changing a cost factor would mean updating a single field. Perhaps you simply wanted to see the impact of the cost change without changing your price: a database would allow you to update the price and calculate the total impact.

Databases are powerful tools that can centralize data, streamline and error-proof work, and transform data into meaningful information. Some examples:

  • A payroll application automated data transfer and eliminated data entry. Fifteen different Excel outputs were eliminated, and historic data was preserved in such a way that it could be used for trend analyses. Reduced process time from 32 to 4 hours while improving data accuracy.
  • A database tool replaced spreadsheet-based cost and quotation calculations, as well as Material Data Sheets (MDS) that had been prepared manually for each product. Reduced quotation turnaround from a week or more to a few minutes. The database also provided the source for a web-based MDS self-service portal for customers.
  • Divergent systems for handling corrective actions were consolidated into a single, company-wide database. Data was centralized, the corrective action process was commonized, bottlenecks were eliminated, and performance metrics were introduced. Professionalism of customer responses was improved and solution-sharing across the company was provided for the first time.

Do you have a process that seems unwieldy? Do you trust the numbers in your calculations? Do you want better visibility into how you are performing?

Database solutions can be big or small, independent or centralized. What do you want to do better?