Friday, March 02, 2012

What you shouldn’t do when someone says: We need to replace our Database

Highland Park old police headquarters 
If you’ve spent any time working in or with databases, fundraising or marketing then I’ll bet you’ve heard someone say at least once (and probably several times…): "You know what, we really need to replace our database system". So the next time this happens, if you are the person who is expected to take action on this, then this is my advice on what you shouldn’t do…

Immediately agree! Okay, you might (secretly) agree, but before you openly do so, do the following: ask Why. And then ask Why again. And again… you get the picture. My point being that it may well be that it is not the database which is causing the problems. It could be your data – maybe it is not recorded consistently, maybe not recorded at all, maybe it isn’t being used, maybe no-one understands it, and maybe a hundred other data issues too. Or it could be your hardware or IT infrastructure: if your database runs r  e  a  l  l  y   s-l-o-w-l-y, then is it the database’s fault or is your hardware out of date or your internet connection overloaded? Or maybe your business processes have not been re-visited for years, maybe your staff have not been trained appropriately (at all…) or maybe you aren’t using the software in its best way. All these issues can be underlying causes of why that someone thinks your current database "isn't working".

Just blame the software. This follows on from the above. If you find you can’t produce the reports you want or the mailings you need, is this definitely because the software can’t do it? Or is it because you aren’t recording the data appropriately or your staff don’t know how to produce the reports/letters? If someone tells you the database can’t do what they need it to do, then is that definitely the case? Of course, it might be – it might be that your operations or requirements have changed so much since you bought the database that the system genuinely is not right for your needs any more, but don’t take that at face value. And if it turns out that the software does have faults, then try talking to the supplier and other users and see if it can be changed, if there are other modules you didn't know about or if there are third-party options you can use.

Just blame the supplier. This follows on from the above… It is very easy to say that the software supplier is no good, they don’t have a roadmap, their support is rubbish and a dozen other criticisms. But is that definitely the case? If they have other customers and they are happy or can use the database, then what is it about your organisation which means this is not so? Why are you different?

Of course, there will certainly be occasions when the person who said, "we need a new database" may well be right! But if you can do all the above first and as a result prove that really is the case, then that will be the first solid step on the way to a new procurement process.

But don’t let bad internal processes, misunderstood perceptions and poor data hide any underlying issues which you would have whatever database you were using. Get your foundations right first. Your database sits on top of that. And that’s what makes a successful system.

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