Use The Right Tool For The Right Job!!!

I am sure we have all experienced or heard the story of the home renovation or auto repair that just went wrong, or certainly just did not go easy. Ultimately, a tradesperson was called who generally - with a flash of their toolbox and a quick trip to their truck - got the job done in reasonably short order. Oh dare I forget to say, they also charged us extra…once to fix our mess and then the regular rate to do it right! In the meantime, if we were lucky, we didn't flood our basement or have the wheels fly off our car before the job was done right - with the right tools and proper experience.

Well lately, for no apparent reason I might add, I seem to be getting numerous people asking me to "have a look" at their "database" they've been working on. Fair enough. The next thing they show me is their spreadsheet.

I say to myself...

AAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!

When I've calmed down, I remind myself this situation is similar to most people's home renovation experience.

When it comes to software, it's common to see people using the wrong program to complete a task.

Most corporate workers use three pieces of software. One for word processing, one for spreadsheets and sometimes, one for databases.

Wording processing software is for creating text documents such as reports, letters, forms, articles, etc. They can include pictures, graphs, portions of spreadsheets and database reports, but their strength is the ability format the document into a good presentation piece.

Spreadsheets are used for creating results of calculations based on figures that are put into the spreadsheet. Some elements of the spreadsheet are textual or graphical, but the power of a spreadsheet is its ability to do complex calculations using advanced formulas with the information provided.

Databases are used to collect, manipulate, filter and report on various kinds of data. Information from a database can be used in either word processing or spreadsheets. Some database packages have the ability to import and export the data between word processing and spreadsheet software. Most databases have the ability to create reports that look a lot like word processing documents and can complete some calculations like a spreadsheet. The strength of the database is its ability to manipulate and filter data quickly and accurately. Database data is often a mix of text and numbers.

I concede database development is an area that the majority of corporate computer users stay away from. It can be complex and intimidating to the average software user. You need to understand how a database works, knowing the difference between tables, queries and reports and how they work together. Terms like "Normalization" and "Relational" become part of your vocabulary - whether you want them to or not!

However, it's important to know when a database is the right tool for a job. For your average software user, a family "gift list" done on a spreadsheet for the family's annual gathering is probably good enough. It's not a database, but it will do the job you need it to.

Now, consider a small or medium business that wants the "gift list" for its 5000 clients, sorted by those who have spent over $5,000 in the last two years, and divided up by region - by tomorrow. You might be able to glean this information from your spreadsheet, but it probably wouldn't be easy nor would it be a cost-effective use of your time.

Some people think databases are just for large companies, or companies that have IT departments that "know that kind of stuff".

How do you know when you're going to be a large company?

Setting up databases properly when you're small will help provide the information you need to help you grow. A well designed database will last you for years. It will probably be one of the only things that survives your company's growth, because your office space, furniture or boardroom probably won't.

From time to time, we've all said to ourselves, "I should have done it this way in the first place". Commit to making today the day you decide to use the "Right Tool For The Right Job" and get that database developed by that "tradesperson" for your business needs.

John Kuehnl-Cadwell
Director of Strategic Planning


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