What color do you want that database?

My favourite Dilbertof all time is when the pointy hair boss tells Dilbert that he needs an SQL database. Dilbert is pretty certain the boss doesn?t know what he is talking about. He confirms that by asking, ?What color do you want that database?? The boss responds, ?I think mauve has the most RAM.?

Unfamiliarity with database design is as real today as it was in 1995, the original publication time of the cartoon. I see this particularly in large corporate environments where the workhorse core business applications are fairly large and complex VSAM applications. Make no mistake, the typical enterprise has moved much farther into the database world.

As a member of my company?s database management team, I work closely with application development teams on the design of databases that often replace a legacy file based application. A majority of these developers have a long tenure with my company and a vast amount of mainframe knowledge. What they generally lack is familiarity with databases and SQL.

Too often I see IT professionals dismissing the knowledge and experience of life-long mainframers. I find this very shortsighted. Information Technology is a profession with pockets of expertise and knowledge that can be very specific and tool oriented. Mainframe application development and support is one of these areas. I have found these people possess strong skills in analysis, practical application design, and above all the knowledge on how to support complex applications in a production environment.

Database professionals need to acknowledge the above when working with non-database folks. This is especially important when they are at your cubicle asking for your help in understanding database design and SQL. I loan out my copies of Steve Hoberman?s Data Modeling Made Simpleto help people on their journey into the database world. It is undoubtedly the best book written in the most easy-to-understand format on data modeling for beginners.

I am offering up the following five suggestions to be used when working with any development team. They prove to be critical when working with folks new to database technology. Although they are not comprehensive, these items will get your database design project off to a good start.

  1. Acknowledge the expertise and experience of your consumers. I find long-tenured employees to be one of the best sources of business rules and business definitions. Data modelers too often concentrate on the tool and technology of modeling. We forget that the quality of the model is driven by accurate and complete business rules and definitions.
  2. Hold a Data Modeling 101 session for the project team. When working with database newbies, I like to use a data model subject area from a business process they are familiar with as a teaching tool. A 1-2 hour session where we walk through the model makes data modeling seem so much more relevant.
  3. Involve the project team in frequent database design sessions. I want the team to see the evolution of the data model throughout the design process. It?s amazing how quickly the team begins to speak about the entities and attributes as their familiarity increases.
  4. Walk their data through the data model. I schedule sessions where the project team can walk their data through the database. This is an extremely beneficial exercise for both the data folks and the application folks. It is the true test of how well the database design works.
  5. Make yourself available and seen as an enabler. As a database designer, you might be the first database team member with whom they interface. Make sure their relationship with your team is a winning relationship. Mentor them to your best abilities and always answer their questions and address their concerns with a smile.

Tom Bilcze
Modeling Global User Community President

I’ve reached 3NF in “Why Be Normal?” How normalized are you?


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