Selecting a Database
A methodology is a comprehensive, multi-step approach to systems analysis and development that helps to guide work and influence the quality of an information system (1). The methodology that a company uses to decide upon what kind of a database they need is very important. The methodology of selecting a database must also fit within the overall methodology of a company’s information system selection. In order to create a methodology, a company must look at all of the potential factors that will go into the selection of a database. There are a number of actions that should be completed in order to analyze what database should be selected. A company must take these factors and actions and put them in the order that makes the most sense to their business model. The ordering or these factors and actions will create a step by step process that can be refined into a database selection methodology. The purpose of this paper is to list the important steps and factors that a company should look at when creating a methodology for selecting databases for their information systems.
There are many factors that go into a methodology of database selection. The first factor to consider is whether a database is even needed. This question must be answered before proceeding to any other step within a methodology. If the decision that the company is looking make concerns an existing database and whether or not it needs to be replaced, than the question would be, does it really need to be replaced (24)? Another factor that needs to be considered when coming up with a methodology is whether to create or buy a database. A cost/benefit analysis must be done. For smaller companies and non-profit organizations this can be a major step in their methodology. This is probably the second step in a methodology for most companies (28). The question of whether or not the database is going to help the company make more money is a critical question to ask. This step must be looked at early on in a methodology of analyzing the selection of a database. Will the database support mission critical activities for the company? The database has to be able to support the activities that make money for an organization or allow that organization to function (32). These factors must be considered early on in a database selection methodology. The answers to these questions will determine if a company goes any further in the process of selecting a database.
Another factor to be considered is what is the purpose of the database? A database may be used to store data, track transactions, or generate reports. The purpose may be a combination of these different functions. A company needs to look at what function the database will serve within the organization. This function will help to show the organization the purpose of the database (2). Deciding on the purpose will be a factor that should be taken into consideration in any company’s database selection methodology.
The cost is a major factor that every company will include in their methodology for selecting a database. The cost is more than just the sticker price on a database system or it is more than just the cost that goes into creating the system. Once the company has purchased or created the system, they must find competent people to run the system. This is a large cost that needs to be examined as well. The staff must include someone to create forms and reports, someone to create new databases, someone to trouble shoot and many others. The continuing cost of the license must be factored into the cost part of the analysis. The cost of support from the company that the system was purchased from or the cost of the internal programmers and designers must be considered. Any middleware that links the current systems to the new database must be factored in (3). All of these factors can add up to a large cost that must be considered by a step within a database selection methodology.
The costs that are associated with maintenance should be a factor that is considered. The question here is what the fees are and what services are covered under the initial contract (15). There are so many things that could go wrong with a new database. How the database supplier will help address the different problems is an important factor to consider. In addition to the costs paid to the supplier, there are also the costs associated with just the general maintenance of the database. The amount paid to the database staff to keep the system functioning must be considered. These additional cost factors must be placed somewhere in the methodology a company uses to select their database.
The users of this database need to be considered as factors in the methodology. Who will be the primary users of the database? What do they need out of the database? What kind of information needs to be stored for these users? These questions must be answered as part of the methodology when analyzing the system (4). It is important to find out from the users what they will need during the analysis and design of any information system but especially the database. The needs of the end users will be a step in any company’s database selection methodology (5).
The input models and the output requirements are another factor to consider. There must be a step within a database selection methodology that analyzes what is going to be put into the database and what needs to be obtained from the database. This step needs to anticipate what the design of the database will need to be. This step needs to focus on questions such as what will the structure of the database be? Or what will be the logic of the design entail (6)? The answers to these questions will complete this step in a database selection methodology.
Selecting which database manufacture to use is an important factor in database selection. According to a study published in the March 27, 2000 addition of Computer World, one of the more important factors in choosing a database is the vendor’s reputation for reliability (12). In addition to reliability, there are a number of issues to consider when selecting the database manufacturer. The question of what the maintenance contract covers is an important variable. The amount of time the help desk at the company is available is something that needs to be considered. The way to reach the help desk can come into play. The ability to get product upgrades or product enhancements and taking into account the costs of these changes, are important factors to consider as well (13). The time it takes to get an answer to a service problem needs to be looked at when considering a database company. This can be a hard variable to measure in a contract because each problem that comes up may require a different amount of time to fix. The ability of the vendor to help fix the problem should be considered (14). Selecting a database manufacturer should be an important step in any company’s database selection methodology.
The depth of services that the database supplier offers should be considered as a factor in the methodology of selecting a database. What are the different features that the database can offer? Who will install the database? How will it interact with the existing systems? These are important questions to ask when deciding between suppliers. Finding out if the suppliers offer training classes or will teach the trainers so that the company can teach its own employees. There may be other service related questions that needed to be address depending on the company and the type of database that is being considered. These are all important things to consider as a factor within a methodology of selecting a database (16).
A good database selection methodology will also look at how easy the database supplier is to work with and how reliable they are. The ability to have a good relationship with a customer is a sign of how good a company is to work with and how reliable they are. The ability of a database company to interact with its customers should be considered when choosing them. This idea ties in with the service idea because it looks at customer satisfaction. The better a database company scores on customer satisfaction, the easier it will probably be to work with them (17). The ability to work well with a supplier is factor that any company should include in their database methodology.
The type of database architecture that is needed is an important factor and must be included in a database selection methodology. There are several types available in today’s market place. There are relational, object orientated and object relational. While this question deals more with the design of the database, it must be a factor that is considered in the analysis because it will determine what the company looks for when buying or building a database design. A company needs to included a step in the methodology to define which type would fit best with their needs (22)
The ability of the database to be used by the people within the company who need the information from it should be a factor considered within a database selection methodology. The ease at which the company can access the information it needs will be important. The ability of the users to get the documents they need will have to be addressed. The ease at which end users can understand the system will be important to their ability to use the system and retrieve the information they need. These different issues make up this factor that a company needs to consider when creating a database selection methodology (19).
The language that the information is stored in can be an important factor to consider. If a company is a multi-national company, databases may need to be stored in different languages depending on what country needs the information. For most Latin-based languages this is not a problem to store information in different languages. Most available database programs will allow multiple Latin-based languages to be stored. However, if the company needs to have database that stores information in Latin and non-Latin based languages, this must be a factor taken into consideration when analyzing what database a company wants to purchase or build. The language of the database must be a step in a methodology of deciding what database system is right for a company (27).
The decision as to the ability of the database to interact with the web is an important one as well. The latest trends seem to be toward having a database that will work with the web. The programming language in this latest trend is XML (26). If a company does a business on the web or has web applications that need to work with a database, then this is a factor that would need to be considered in their analysis methodology when selecting a database.
The security of the database system will have to be analyzed. The factor that needs to be considered here is how the database system prevents unwanted users from getting accesses. This problem needs to address both unwanted internal users as well as unwanted external users. The database system must be able to protect the company’s information. Security must be considered as a factor in any database selection methodology.
The integrity of the data is part of this security but it is also a separate factor to be considered as well. The ability to organize the date and withdraw it from the system in order to generate information has to be examined. If a company is unable to use the data that it stores, then the system is not worth the investment. The database methodology must consider the ability of the system to insure data integrity as a factor in the selection of a database.
The ability to recover the data in a database if something happens to the system is very important as well. The recovery features need to be looked as a factor in the database analysis methodology of a company (20). Without a way for the system to recover data, a company would be taking a very big risk in purchasing this kind of a database system.
The ability to customize the database to fit within what the company needs is an important factor to consider. The ease of taking or creating a database program and then adjusting it to fit the business need is important. The database must be able to react to a company’s business environment. In order to be successful a database must be able to work with the company and not against it (21). The idea of customization will be more important to some companies then others depending on the complexity of their current systems. The ability to customize a system is a factor that a database selection methodology should consider.
A company looking to create a methodology to analyze their decision to buy or create a database needs to keep some actions in mind when looking at the factors that need to be addressed. The first action that must be done is a literature search. This would include things such as looking at professional literature as well as computer science literature. There are a lot of reviews and information out on the web to look at as well (7). Looking at the reviews and available information will give the purchasing company a better idea of what product is right for their needs. The methodology of database selection needs to make a literature search part of it.
Another action that needs to be included in the methodology of database selection is doing a peer review of the available products. Verbally asking other companies their impressions of their software and how well it has worked for them. The information obtained must be taken in the context of what business the company is in and how much customization was required by their business model. Even with the potential bias a company may have toward a particular product; a company can learn a lot of information by just asking other companies (8).
A third action item that a company needs to perform when coming up with a database selection methodology is getting a demo of the different products from the different database companies. This action should be added to a methodology toward the end once the company has narrowed down their options. The demo should be shown to the administration team as well as the end users to get their feedback on it. This is another part of the puzzle that should be included in any database selection methodology (9).
An example of a good database selection methodology comes from the Alfred I duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington. This hospital was looking to update its current database system. They determined that the current system was outdated and not Y2K compliant and decided they needed to replace it. This was the first step in their methodology. The hospital was looking for a system “that was designed to provide physicians with the most current healthcare data available for monitoring and caring for patients, enabling more timely and effective decision-making.” These were the main factors that the hospital included in their methodology for deciding upon a database. These factors included who would be using the system as well as the purpose of the system. This statement of factors also defined what the main inputs and outputs from the system would need to be. They decided to go with a system from Cerner Corporation. The Cerner system met all of these factors. Cerner also has a good reputation in the medical systems industry. The hospital also felt that Cerner could provide better support than any other company they considered. Cerner also offered the hospital better flexibility in the system. This pointed to the fact that Cerner could customize the system for the hospital. This was also an important factor in the hospital’s database selection methodology. The system allowed the hospital to work the new database into their existing information systems methodology (23).
Another example of a company analyzing and coming up with a methodology for a database selection is when JCPenney decided it needed to update its entire inventory operating system. One of choices within that system had to be the selection of a new database program. JCPenney had already hired Suncoast to help them come up with a new operating system. Together JCPenney and Suncoast looked at what was needed for an operating system. One of the parts of the operating system that had to be considered was what database to select. The companies came up with a number of factors to use as a database selection methodology. The factors that the companies felt were important included; high performance, portability, good technical support and a C interface for special purpose application and interfaces. Suncoast helped JCPenney pick the Sculptor 4GL+SQL application because it met each step in their database selection methodology (30).
Once a company has looked at all of the factors and action items that need to go into a database selection methodology, the next step is too step back and see how the database selection methodology fits into the overall information system methodology of the company. The database methodology needs to be able to work within the overall information system methodology. This is going to create a lot of over lap between the two methodologies. This overlap is needed in order to make sure that the database system selection matches the overall information systems objectives. It is important to keep in mind here that if a company’s database methodology has a step that takes the selection of a database outside of what the overall information systems methodology, then the step must be reworked to fit within the overall methodology or it must be dropped as a factor to be considered.
When fitting the database selection methodology within the context of the overall methodology the question must be asked, how does this database fit in with the needs of the company’s information system? The methodology of the deciding upon a database must take into consideration a step to explain how this database will help the company make more money. The underlining factor of each information system selection must be how the new system is going to help to make the company more successful. This must be a step in both the overall systems methodology as well as the database methodology. If the company determines that a database is needed, then they must come up with a set of factors that are important to the company in relation to the overall information systems plan. The decision on what is needed will help guide the database selection methodology by providing the company with ideas on what it will be looking for in a database (18). Another factor to be considered in the methodology is the idea of what the future plans are for this and other databases (10). The overall vision of where the information system is going and how it is evolving must be looked at here. The company doing the analysis must look at the future not only of the database they are looking at buying or building but also at how this database will fit into the future of the information system. The database analysis must look at how the database will interact with the existing information system. In order for a company to select a particular database, that database must be able to be used with the current system programs and programming languages. The programming language that the company has chosen in the overall systems methodology must be also a considered in the database analysis methodology (25). The analysis of selection of a database must look at how critical the database will be to the rest of the system. This idea must be considered because if the database has a problem and goes down, this can drag down other systems in the company. A database decision has to take into consideration how it will affect the information systems of the rest of the company (29). The database system must fit within the overall context of a growing and evolving information system’s department. The strength of the MIS department must be taken into consideration as well when selecting a database product. The more a department can support the stronger and more complex a system the company can buy or build. This has to be looked at in the company information systems methodology and then again at the database selection methodology (31). The database selection methodology cannot be created on its own. The database selection methodology must fit within the overall information system’s methodology and only then can you have a good database selection methodology.
A methodology is a comprehensive, multi-step approach to systems analysis and development that helps to guide work and influence the quality of an information system (11). Taking all of the factors and action items into consideration, a good methodology can be created for deciding upon what database a company should select. A good database selection methodology cannot be created unless the overall systems analysis methodology is taken into consideration. The systems methodology will guide the creation of a database methodology. Each company will have different factors that they will consider the most important in their creation of a database methodology. Once the database methodology is created, it will allow a company to easily decide in the future what database systems are needed. The database selection methodology will be used each time a new database selection must take place. In order for a company to have a successful methodology they must take all of the factors into consideration, complete all the actions and incorporate the overall information systems methodology into their database analysis methodology.
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