Database Basics

 

 

A good database management system lets you organise any type of information into a well-structured body.  Such information can include literally include anything, including:

  • People, like your customers, employees, members, and associated information pertaining to that person such as their name, address, contact details and orders.
  • Projects, like business sales targets, customer surveys, or marketing new products.
  • Assets, like your inventory and current stock levels, or your current finances.
  • Images, like product photos and images, scanned drawings and videos.

Such is the power of databases these days that literally any element that you store on your computer can now be stored in a database.

 

How is database management different to a spreadsheet?

 

Often businesses utilise spreadsheets to keep track of their information.  Spreadsheet data is often confused with database management; they are similar in many ways and concepts, but they differ in a number of critical areas.

 

A spreadsheet is excellent at storing 'dumb' information; that is, numbers and texual information.  It is especially good at 'number crunching',  and if programmed well, can give people the exact results they are after.  But spreadsheets are designed specifically for that one single purpose.  If you require any further analysis from this information, more often than not, you need to create a new macro or process to transform the current data.

 

In short, databases supercede spreadsheets because of the following reasons:

 

Databases can give answers to your questions and problems

 

In a well-structured database, you can ask literal questions to a database and receive a literal answer.  You do not need to program a macro, or transform data; the database management system is able to handle complex queries to give you exactly the answer you seek.  For example, questions such as "How many of my customers are located in Sydney, Australia?", or "Show me my gross profits for the last financial year" are easily handled by a database management system, provided the database has been well-structured.

 

Link Related Data

 

Most databases are also "relational databases"; that is, they are able to relate one set of data to another, provided there is a logical connection.  For example, a customer call "Bob Jones" can be linked to a city called "Sydney".  When you pose the question "Show me my customers located in Sydney, Australia", the database will return you a list of customers that fit that description, including "Bob Jones".

 

Find out more about a relational database

 

View Data in Different Ways

 

Database management systems can easily let you view your data in different ways, including data lists, tables, or visual forms that can be exported into documents and reports.

 

 

Link your database to any computer, or directly to the web

 

With the advent of web databases, you can now display your information from your database realtime to the web.  For example, you can show a customer when his order has been processed, or you can show the GPS location of a truck delivering your parcel.  Likewise, you can easily share this information to other internal departments, or license a subset of your data to other companies.

 

Find out more about web databases

 

 

 

What do I need to know to use a database management system?

If you are new to databases, trying to get started with a database management system can be quite daunting.  That said, today you can find easy database management systems that make it easy to get started, even if you have never worked with databases before. 

 

For almost any business or project, using a database management system helps you spend less time managing details, and more time managing your business.

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