Databases: what are they and how can they help you?
Updated: Jan 5
In this article, I will explain why a database is amazing, how it works and why every business needs one.
Put simply, a database breaks all of your data down into bite-sized bits that are stored in one super-organized single source. Data can then be shared, updated, added, and linked from this main source. Whenever any changes need to be made you only need to make them on a single file and they get updated throughout the linked network, saving you loads of time and clearing up a lot of confusion.
Data is any information that you create or gather, at work or in your personal life. It is any fact about a specific object. For example, your customer's address, name, and phone number are data about them.
How do we currently store data?
The way that we store data differs greatly from company to company. Some of us might use sticky notes, filing cabinets, flat files (like spreadsheets), or complicated databases running off of gigantic servers. No matter the method, all businesses capture and store data in one form or another.
The problem tends to come in when we have our method down and all figured out, but then the business starts to grow (like we all hope it will). Many data management and storage methods tend to get out of hand very quickly. Files get lost, duplicate entries happen or we end up with draft names like final_document or final_final_document. Then comes the ever postponing chat of "I need to sort out my files, but I will do it when I have more time". Let's face it, 'more time' hardly ever comes and when it does we all have better things to spend it on than trying to sort through 1000s of files.
This is exactly where starting a database can help you. In a database all of your data will be stored securely and organized neatly. This network of links will grow as your business grows.
As a bonus, because databases often live online, you can access your information at any time from anywhere as long as you have internet access. No more digging through hard drive after hard drive or looking for that specific document in that one email from months ago.
Examples explain it best
Let's say I have a bakery, where I currently keep track of information and orders concerning sales on paper or in a spreadsheet. As more orders come in, I just keep adding to the list.
Susan phones as a new customer, she buys 12 cupcakes, which I add to my list.
I then duplicate Susan's name, contact number, and order items onto an order form that my staff uses to bake the cakes.
The information then gets copied and pasted onto an invoice to be given to Susan and a copy of the invoice gets placed into a file for my accountant to deal with at the end of the month. This takes up quite a bit of time.
I repeat this process for each of the customers that trickle in.
Later Susan places another order for her husband’s birthday, 2 cakes and 24 cupcakes. She has however moved to a new address. So I log her as a new client, not knowing that this is the Susan I already know.
Now I have redundant information and contradictory addresses, in essence, I have a duplicate file. All of this information gets pushed through my current process all the way to accounts.
As my business grows, this can easily become a problem.
One day Susan places a third order and then phones to make a change to this order, when a staff member looks her up, two Susans come up. The staff member taking the call, accidentally places the order under the old address and Susan's order gets delivered to the wrong home...Not ideal.
How a database can solve this?
As we discussed earlier, a database separates information into bite-sized bits. These bits get stored according to a topic in what is called a table. In the bakery, you would have a table for orders, one for clients, one for products, and another for invoices.
Each of these tables will then contain columns about the specific topic. The Client table will have columns for client information, address, contact number, name etc. The Product table will have columns for product name, price, available flavors, etc.
This system sorts your data in a much more effective way. The source, containing the bite-sized bits of data, will always stay in one place, but can be linked as more orders, products or clients get added. As your data grows, the system and connections will grow with you.
If Susan places an order and my bakery is set up on a database, I can easily look up Susan and see that she is already on my system, from there I can see all of her past orders as well as outstanding bills. Now, if her address changes, I can update it in one place and know that it will be updated throughout my system.
In my Products table I can add new products, which will enable me to easily keep track of stock and prices. Because my products will be linked to my Order table, as more orders come in, I can easily keep track of the amount of stock I have left and easily convert these orders to invoices. I can then share the Invoice folder with my accountant and they will have easy access to all the information they need. Saving me even more time.
Sounds easy right? So why aren't more people using them?
Databases are set up and run by database management systems. These systems often require a developer to set them up. Seeing connections within a data management system like this becomes difficult because it is all done in code. So a developer is needed to keep the system running.
This is where My Data Grows can help. Our platform allows users to set up a database without the need for coding skills. My Data Grows makes it easy to visualize the connections between your information because each topic, such as clients, orders or products, gets displayed within your database as a table.
The details, such as customer name, address or contact number, etc form columns within their specific table. Tables can easily be connected, allowing you to keep your data tidy, organized, and structured in a way that makes sense to your business's unique needs.
If your business needs a solution like ours, but you are not sure how to set it up, reach out to a friendly staff member that will assist you in starting your data journey with My Data Grows.