In 1987, the company I was working for at the time shipped me off to database administrator school in Atlanta. The one thing I remember clearly from that class was a debate between the class and the instructor over the question of knowing what was best for the user, where database design was concerned. We, the students, were somewhat patronizing on this point, as you might guess. The instructor's response, however, was absolute: "It's their data."
Now, at that time I'd been in the business about six years, and I had a very territorial view of things (and most of my colleagues have shared this somewhat skewed view). The data, the databases, the applications, and even the terminals that employees used were really part of my domain, and IT graciously permitted them access.
But this is ultimately a very wrong-headed way to think, especially in this very user-driven IT landscape. We are service providers, nothing more, nothing less. The data belongs to the users. By extension, the databases are theirs, and like their houses or cars or the chairs they sit in all day, must be very specifically suited to their needs.
The user is no longer passive in your redesigned data universe. Not only is the user now prominent in application development, the user is becoming a full partner in application design -- and, alongside the customer and business partner, the ultimate determinant of appropriate database design. As you consider the enterprise, you must reposition the role of your users in your thinking -- and understand that the user is the voice that must be heard as you put data storage and access back on the drawing board.
Roll Your Own?
When making the enterprise decision, it's natural to consider the ERP software/service providers, such as SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, etc. They rightly market not only the software to integrate and/or replace your existing core systems, they also sell you the people to run them -- freeing up your in-house crew to focus on those IT aspects of your company's business that differentiate it. Better for you, better for your IT people, better for everyone -- and expensive as hell.
If you can't afford the pricey decision to bring in an enterprise provider, don't despair. It's possible to create the enterprise in-house, and to do it economically. The many decisions, methods, tools and considerations you'll encounter in taking such a road are the on-going subject of this series.
Scott Robinson is an enterprise software and systems consultant with Quantumetrics, Inc., a consultant's collaborative. Robinson has worked with such well known organizations as the Dept. of Defense (DOD), Dept. of Energy (DOE), Wal-Mart, and Roche Pharmaceuticals. He is also a regular contributor to TechRebpublic and can be reached at (812) 989-8173, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.