Finally, I’m getting back to my series of posts about database development. Databases are an important part of the business landscape, but they are highly misunderstood. For instance a well designed database can allow your sales force to instantly call up information about your clients, their recent purchases, their returns, how much they spent with you last year, and so on. A well designed database can be an invaluable tool across your business. Now, note my use of the phrase “a well designed database”. A poorly designed database, however is a royal pain in the neck. It hides information, obscures data, and misleads your business. So, in order to ensure that your database is of the “well designed” variety, you simply must use “The Most Important Database Tool in the World”. OK, so what is this tool? It’s a #2 pencil and a sheet of cheap notebook paper. That’s right, the most critical step in designing and implementing a database for your business is to sit down with a sheet of paper and map out your data. What data will be stored? How does each piece of data relate to each other piece? What type of reporting needs to be done? Whether you are hiring a pro to build a full featured MySQL database or you’re doing it yourself with OpenOffice Base or MS Access, good planning is essential. By mapping out your data, you identify data that you can leave out, freeing up space and bandwidth. You also have the opportunity to identify any data that ay be useful that you hadn’t thought about, and you assure that your database has a solid, efficient structure. Having a solid map of your data and its relationships (called a schema, in the industry) is the first step toward a successful, profitable database project.