Paul is a GIS professor at Vancouver Island U, has a PhD from U of British Columbia, and has taught stats and programming for 15 years.
Organizations use large amounts of data. Database management makes it possible to organize and analyze these data. Learn why database management is important to support business operations.
Organizations Use Data
Organizations use large amounts of data. These data can be related to the people who work for the organization, its products or services, the customers or any other aspect of the operations of the organization. The data need to be organized in a way that supports decision-making. The most common data types are text and numbers, but data can also include images, photographs, sound, video and other types. Data are organized in a database.
Let's consider an example of how databases are used. Think of a public library. A library contains books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and other materials. All these materials need to be catalogued so we know what is available in the library. For each item, the catalog would describe things like the type of item, the title, the authors, the publishers and other relevant details. The catalog also needs to be searchable, so the librarian typically assigns some keywords to each item. The library catalog is a type of database.
Once we have a catalog, we also need to have a way for users to check out the materials. Users need to be able to register, get a library card and use this card to check out the materials they want to take home. So the library needs a database of users. This would include the user's name, address, telephone number, e-mail and age. With a catalog of materials and a user database, the library can start operating. What is needed to support the day-to-day operations is a system to keep track of which materials each user checks out and when they get returned. This system needs to be linked to the catalog and the user database.
Now consider how you actually use the library and what decisions are being made. You go to the library and want to learn something about the theory of evolution. The first thing you probably do is go to a computer terminal and search the catalog with a keyword like 'evolution theory.' You browse through the results to see which books might be most useful. Once you have found a few titles, you can check to make sure they are not already checked out.
You find the materials you are interested in on the shelves and take them to the checkout counter. The staff at the counter scans your library card to make sure your account is in good standing. If you have books overdue, the staff member will be quick to remind you. Then the materials you want to check out are scanned, and the staff member will make sure you don't exceed any limits set by the library - such as a maximum of three music CDs.
You take your materials home, and a week later you get a reminder e-mail that your music CDs are due, since you can only keep them for a week. You return the music CDs but keep the books for now. Two weeks later, you get a reminder your books are due. You are not quite done reading them, so you log on to the library's website and renew the books online. A few weeks later, you return the books.
Throughout these steps, you have used the library system in several ways:
The catalog terminals at the library
The checkout counters
The e-mail notification system, and
The online renewal system
All of this is possible because of the database systems maintained by the library.
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Also consider how the library staff uses the databases. Staff at the checkout counters process user requests. Librarians add new books to the catalogue and help users find materials at other libraries. Senior staff at the library analyze how the collections are being used, which new materials should be acquired and how to best meet the needs of the many library users. All of these decisions are informed by the various databases.
Benefits of Database Management
The library example has demonstrated a number of benefits of database management:
Databases make it possible to store and organize large amounts of data.
Data become searchable using keywords and other identifiers.
Databases change constantly and get updated on an ongoing basis.
Various parts of a database are linked to each other.
Different users play different roles in using and maintaining the databases.
Databases can be accessed using different mechanisms.
The library is just one example. You can select almost any organization and think of the various data being used and how they support decision-making. Consider a hospital. Databases used by a hospital would include:
Medication and equipment
Scheduling of staff and facilities
Billing and insurance and many others
These data are used to make decisions on how to treat patients - sometimes literally life-and-death decisions. Without accurate and readily available data, it would be much harder for nurses and doctors to do their jobs.
Or consider a supermarket. Databases used by a supermarket would include:
Customer loyalty program and others
Imagine you are the produce manager of the supermarket. Keeping a steady supply of fresh fruits and vegetables every single day is no easy task. Customers expect to have the shelves stocked continuously, so the supermarket is using various databases on a daily basis to keep the customers happy.
Every organization uses data. In our modern world, the amount of data used in even a small organization continues to grow steadily. And we expect organizations to not only deliver products and services of high quality - we want them to be cost-effective as well.
Now imagine you are a librarian, or a nurse in a hospital, or the produce manager of a supermarket. Do you think you could do your job with just a paper notepad and a pen? Sure, some of it you could probably do with pen and paper, but you are going to be much more effective at your job if you had access to all the necessary information in an easy-to-use database that you could access from any device. Welcome to the word of database management.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:
Understand how data is organized and stored
Analyze the benefits of using databases in different organizations
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