When is it Time to Upgrade Your Databases?

AtlanticMIS: Database Design ExpertsThere are inevitable realizations a company faces when it successfully grows into a medium sized business:  One of those are that the tools use to manage your company may no longer be adequate.

Spreadsheets are a small business' best friend, but after some time they can grow to be virtually unmanageable. You begin to store hundreds of spreadsheets in various places, and though they may be organized, for the most part, they are just not as readily available as they would be if the data were stored in a MS Access database, or SQL Server database.

Another issue you may start having is the size of a spreadsheet may be so large, you could begin to have issues with spreadsheets crashing -- having to recover them from the autosave file, and finding a customer in thousands of entries can also be time consuming.

When this is the case, I recommend importing your data into a system that is compatible with the size of your business. This may be Microsoft Access, MS SQL Server, Zoho Netsuite, or, in the case of an accounting system, MS Dynamics Great Plains. Also keep in mind, you want to upgrade to something that will last at least ten years or more, if possible.

It really all depends on the data you want to upgrade as well. I threw in MS Access for most administrative tasks because it's user friendly, can accommodate a very large amount of data, and can be built into just about anything. I once created an Access database that helped teams around the world manage their project tasks based on MS Project, This was before MS Project provided the server version that now does the same thing. I linked to the main schema of the master schedule and subcontractors were able to update their project chart in Access, which in turn would update the master schedule back in the United States.

Other times, you may have a company where an administrative assistant, or manager may have learned how to build a database for their department. They build and expand it, then it gets to a point where it's too complicated. In a best case scenario, management realizes it's capability and wants more features built into it, but doesn't have the personnel with advanced development skills to make it happen.

This happens all the time, especially in government agencies like a State department of transportation. This is where, with a reasonably small amount of money, you can hire a programmer to build onto your existing database, or they may recommend a redesign, to help enable the inevitable growth requirements of the company.

MS Access is a great tool, and it comes with MS office Professional, so the only cost you will incur is the development. There are also some great Commercial off-the-shelf software available, not to mention SaaS applications. Looking at a cost benefit analysis over a ten year period, you could invest in your own proprietary database rather than a "one size fits all" application. But functionality is very important, and I don't recommend proprietary applications for mission critical uses, like Payroll, or Accounting. There are too many great applications already developed for this.

If you are looking for an idea for your payroll department, I recommend ADP or Paychex payroll service for medium sized companies, becuase they are still a fairly good service if you don't do your own payroll. They also provide benefits, and retirement savings to employees.

If you are a medium sized company, then you may want to avoid "Big ticket" software like Ultimate Software, becuase the cost of tens of thousands per month, just isn't cost effective until your growth is substantial -- with millions of dollars in monthly revenue. Even then, you may find building your own system for non-accounting and payroll uses may be more economical.

Also read: "Making Sound Decisions on Information Technology"

I've literally built close to a dozen applications for Payroll, HR, Personnel Management, Reports, Facilities and so-on for one client under $300,000 a year -- outsourcing a team of contractors from around the world. It just doesn't make sense to spend more than that to upgrade to a software system that may be overkill for your particular business.

If you are storing customer data in SQL and have grown to have millions of customer records like San Diego Gas & Electric, the California Department of Transportation, or the larger size national health clubs like Youfit, or Planet Fitness, then you are probably getting ready to upgrade to Oracle sometime within the next five years. Oracle is the mother of all databases, and it is used for projects like Social Media, and Big Data storage.

This brings me to my last point about something you need to keep in mind when designing your new upgraded system. Always be sure that you aren't just hiring someone whose maximum skill and expertise is limited to your new upgraded system. You need to select a developer that also has experience upgrading your new app to the next larger system.

Big mistakes are made where a company will hire a developer to upgrade their database from MS Excel to MS Access, for example, but has never upgraded MS Access to MS SQL Server -- the next inevitable upgrade; or who is upgrading your system to MS SQL Server, but has never worked in Oracle. If a database is not designed with an inevitable upgraded system in mind, then you will be wasting thousands of dollars in redevelopment, when the time comes to upgrade again.

To summarize, make sure you have the adequate tools to do the job; keep it manageable; keep it economical;  and select someone with the skills who can upgrade it again if necessary.





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