In Star Trek (Next Generation, folks, not the classic series — sorry), they have a character named Mr. Data. He’s an android who is literally a walking encyclopedia. In the parlance of Gilbert and Sullivan, he would have been the picture of a modern major general, because he possessed information vegetable, animal and mineral. All you had to do was ask him, and he’d give it to you.
“Mr. Data, what is the chemical composition of table salt?”
“Sodium chloride, also known as salt, common salt, table salt or halite, is an ionic compound with the formula NaCl. Sodium chloride is the salt most responsible for the salinity of the ocean and of the extracellular fluid of many multicellular organisms. As the major ingredient in edible salt, it is commonly used as a condiment and food preservative.”
“Okay, how does a rotary engine work?”
“The rotary engine was an early type of internal-combustion engine, usually designed with an odd number of cylinders per row in a radial configuration, in which the crankshaft remained stationary and the entire cylinder block rotated around it. Its main application was in aviation, although it also saw use in a few early motorcycles and cars.”
“Good job, Mr. Data. Now, what should I get my girlfriend for her birthday?”
“Her tastes in gifts are beyond your financial capacity to obtain anything that would be to her liking. No matter what gift you offer, any choice within your budget will disappoint her equally.”
Okay, maybe not what I wanted to hear, but right answer, nonetheless.
Businesses trying to get to their data don’t have as easy a time as they would if they had a Mr. Data on their payrolls, though. In many cases, businesses don’t keep track of their information as well as they should and, as a result, wind up making bad choices.
For instance, your sales staff is very busy and revenue seems to be going well, so you decide to bring on more staff to support the sales. You check a few contracts and calculate revenue from them, and hire the personnel. But three months later, you realize you’ve overstaffed, because some of your older contracts with clients were up, and several didn’t renew. Had you accessed the data on old contracts, you might have made a better decision. The problem was, that information was kept in a different database, so you didn’t have ready access to it.
That’s where a good database management system (DBMS) comes into play. A DBMS is simply a piece of software that integrates all your data from all your departments so you can readily access the information you need without having to worry about missing information. For instance, a good DSMS would have enabled you, in the last example, to do more than calculate revenue from new business. You could have accessed all revenue sources and the aging on all the old contracts to get a more precise figure. That way you would have known that you needed more in sales to justify a new staff member.
You don’t have to be a huge business to make use of a DBMS. All you need is enough data that you don’t know where to find everything. If you’ve ever asked for a report and waited three days to get it, chances are a DBMS could help solve that problem. That, and blocking Facebook from your office’s computer system. Farmville can get in the way of filing reports.
It’s not the same as having a Mr. Data around, but it would get the job done.
As far as the other problem goes, I think I’ll get her chocolate, in case I get hungry when she starts ignoring me later.