All businesses know that in order to succeed they need to have a clear profile of their customers and their needs. It’s also important to keep up with suppliers and discover what the competition is doing with their skills. But the days of long lunch meetings with clients, where discussions begin with talk of families and eventually come round to sales, are long behind us. For a start, customer mailing lists are simply too long for one-on-one attention, and they require much greater updating than they once did. Employees now seem to multi-task or specialise in several areas, and managers no longer have secretaries to keep track of the myriad details vital to good customer services. Is it any wonder that data management has slipped from the list of professional priorities? There is just too much information these days.[Tweet “Is it any wonder that #data management has slipped from the list of professional priorities?”]

But this doesn’t have to mean a wholly impersonal touch to doing business in the twenty-first century, or an excuse for poor record-keeping. Building a database is one way of retaining the data-centric links and management skills that keep a business ahead of the competition. There’s no easier way to gather, store and process such essential information and an increasing number of companies are investigating this customised software for themselves.

Sorting through the data

In day-to-day dealings, many companies don’t have the time or budget to deal with large amounts of data. This can result in an imprecise idea of how a business is actually performing. Trends in sales, such as repeat purchases, or common manufacturing errors, can be missed entirely as the bigger picture is not easily constructed for analysis. The bottom line can be the only factor recognised, which does little for shaping future strategies or improving operational performance.

If you don’t know that 45 per cent of orders are placed on a Friday morning between April and August, with a next-day delivery option, how can you capitalise on the market demand for deckchairs and home ice cream makers? In such a scenario it’s tempting to see that 2,300 units have been sold in the past 12 months without proceeding to investigate revenue streams in the autumn and winter, or anticipating the cost involved in increased summer weekend deliveries. This may be a simple example but too many companies are not wringing enough out of the data available and so feeling the financial strain.

Of far more use is a relational database management system, which begins by determining what information is valuable and then collecting it over time. From this accumulated data, patterns emerge, sales profiles become familiar and areas for customer development are clear. From a mass of jumbled spreadsheets and mailing lists, a database is able to create a direct picture of a business’s performance and habits. Additionally, a database can be accessed by multiple users, which increases the efficiency of everyone.

An essential data management tool

Structure is key when it comes to a database, and at some point a spreadsheet simply isn’t going to be enough. The software can arrange and sort through types of information quickly and without error, unlike a card file index that can be prone to human error and subject to the whims of the person who created it. A relational database management system such as the Microsoft SQL Server is able to link information together, making cross-referencing easy (for example, in linking a customer’s details to a recent order by a unique customer ID) and other specialist tasks – something impossible to do comprehensively in a simple card file index.

Databases can also be highly customised, which off-the-shelf packages can’t hope to do. (Interestingly, many legacy systems can be rewritten and the data synchronized between the old and the new systems.) From ticket reservations to inventory or sales management, unique systems can be created to tackle the most complex aspects of a particular business, and no compromises are called for along the way. Working within strict design parameters, software developers build a system to fit certain needs, and can ensure that a number of safety measures are in place. This can include operating on a commit basis, where a data is safe from corruption if a system suddenly fails.[Tweet “Many #legacy systems can be rewritten and the #data synchronized between the old and new.”]

Making the investment worth it

While it may be tempting to delay or even forgo taking on a database for your business, it would be wrong to think it not worth it based only on the expense or time commitment. Building the software does require careful consultancy with developers, an in-depth look at current businesses needs and data capture, as well as testing, training and maintenance but if these are viewed as positive measures the benefits become immediately clear. Financial and temporal investment is needed in making any company successful, and the ones that go furthest are always able to do more with the working hours each day. It’s not too wild a theory to suppose most of them have databases either…

A truly effective database can bring together online and offline, mobile, desktop, local and cloud devices. Employees, managers, customers and suppliers will all be able to simultaneously access and process live data through intuitive user interfaces. Whether a company is a local retailer who has just expanded or an international business trying to universalise different sales ordering systems, a database can make effectiveness second nature to operations.