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Get your spec right when writing briefs

How to specify what you want in a database

Ensure you get the system you need by using our checklist to creating a comprehensive database system specification.

Start at the very beginning.
Work out the process you are trying to automate with the database, DO NOT DO ANY PROGRAMMING UNTIL YOU CAN SEE WHAT IS NEEDED!

List the process on paper one function at a time, in order, e.g.

1. Customer details come in via application form,

2. The fields on application form are: xxxxx

3. Therefore all the fields from the form are to be added to the database.

Attention to detail
You do not need to know how to programme in order to specify a database, but you do need to be able to put into words the details you would like to get out of the database, such as:

Labels: list sizes and shapes

Letters: standard and freeform

Reports: various types, with all their field names, sort order, search criteria, how often you need the data, etc.

Searches: which types? Do you need the searches printed, viewed on screen, or exported?

Maximise your information.
1. What information do you want to analyse?

2. Who needs to get information from you, and what information do they need?

3. In what format do they need to get it?

4. What other applications do you need to interface with?

5. Where is the information coming from that is to be used to populate your database?

6. How can this data be gotten into the database?

Include everything.
If you can work out exactly what information you need to get out of the database, you have already told the programmer what he needs to put in to the database. You can not get stuff out that has not been put in!

When should I use a database?
Any process that has a logical approach can be databased.

Database programming only really gets into a mess when the person specifying the system is unsure of the process they are asking to be automated, or when the programmer has not fully understood the process.

If you cannot easily specify the data flow that is required, or need help in untangling existing systems, consultancy can enable you to do this.

Get the information right.
Every company needs to be able to designate a person who is the key decision maker, and who can confirm the processes. Make sure both parties agree the core functionality and key processes.

A database specification report should be drawn up, detailed if possible to the last field name, and signed off before any programming starts.

Programming is always costed on a time basis, "how long will your spec take to make?". So remember that further questions and amendments beyond this agreed spec may be charged for!

If your specification is sound and logical, then you'll get the system you want - it's as simple at that!

Note: If you need help in any area of computing and are not sure where to start looking - call us on 01923 842 295 - and we'll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

Paul Cruse
Cruse Control Limited

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