Kieran Cooper considers the problem of multiple databases.
The Box Office system, the fundraising database, the press list, the Chief Executive?s filofax, the dreaded Christmas Card list, that pile of questionnaires from last season?s market research ? it seems that not only are organisations overflowing with information these days but in many cases that information is stored in different places, on different media and with incompatible formats.
Sorting out this kind of situation requires a two-pronged approach. The first task is identify the information that exists and work out what it is used for. This kind of ?data audit? could be done with a simple questionnaire that staff fill in themselves, but the process tends to work better if someone is deputed to nose around a bit: people often seem to forget exactly what they have, or decide that they want to keep some bits to themselves and don?t own up!
Once you know what you?ve got, then you need to consider whether some collections of information might be more useful if they were combined, or if access to them was extended to more staff. Perhaps there is duplication of names and addresses (with one set more out of date than the other); or one department may hold that would be useful to others (the fundraising department may like to know the names of the people who regularly sit in top price seats, for instance).
When you?ve got some idea of the benefits that might emerge from combining information or extending access to it, then the pros and cons of each case need to be weighed up. In an ideal world organisations would have a single database accessible to everyone, and this would record every bit of information about everybody that the organisation knows or comes into contact with. But there are frequently good reasons why this approach wouldn?t work. There may be security issues, for instance, or it may be impossible to find a single piece of software which will do everything the organisation wants. There are also potential technological problems when systems don?t speak to each other and store the data in completely different formats. Having said that, most organisations will have at least some areas where change can be beneficial.
Decisions have to be made about where the combined information will be kept, and in what form. Organisations with ticketing or fundraising systems generally find that it?s sensible to use them as the main repository for all information. Whilst that may necessitate more people having access to the system and needing training, the benefits from having all the organisation?s knowledge about its customers or donors in one place can be immense and any potential problems such as security of access are now well addressed by modern systems. For organisations without a central database system there are many software options at relatively low prices ? First Point is one that I?ve looked at recently but a quick search on the Internet will bring up many more.
Finally, a few golden rules to consider:
? The greater the amount of information to be combined, the greater the potential for problems. Plan carefully and allow time for a dry run before ?going live?.
? If you?re changing to a new system , training is essential; and make sure the new system can do more or less what the old one did
? Whilst the process of data auditing and consolidation should be driven by one or two key people to ensure consistency, it is also essential to get ?buy-in? from all the staff concerned. If they can see benefits to them, as well as to the organisation, then they will be more willing to surrender access to the Christmas card list or the Chief Executive?s little black book.