Design Your Own Database System

Think your small business’ database has to be created by the professionals? Think again. No one is as familiar with your company’s individual needs as you are. And, with the right system, designing your own database can be as simple as creating an Excel file.

Here’s a list of what you need to look for in a small business database system (listed in no particular order). Any database that has most or all of these features will likely fit the bill:

•Should run on all versions of your preferred operating system (e.g., Windows XP, Vista, etc.). •Should make it easy for anyone, including novices, to quickly build a database. This means it should offer a full complement of visual design tools, making database development as easy as pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping. •Easily creates desktop databases (i.e., Windows, Mac, or Linux programs). •Easily creates Web databases (i.e., forms that can be hosted on the Web). •Provides smart wizards that automate common database design and development tasks. •Optionally provides a "scripting" language, for more advanced users. •Optionally provides a programming language, such as BASIC or JavaScript, for the most sophisticated users. •Allows you to connect as many people to the database as you will reasonably need (watch out for databases that limit you to 9 or 10 user connections). •Provides built-in security features that allow you to specify user and group access rights. •Allows you to connect to existing databases that you might encounter, such as Microsoft Access, Oracle, MySQL, IBM DB2, etc. •Offers facilities for quickly and easily converting Excel spreadsheets into a fully-functional database. •Should offer a full suite of online support options, including a user group where you can post questions, and get support from experts and other small business users. •Should allow you to speed up data entry with lookups (even automatically looking up different prices for different categories of customers; e.g., government, commercial, educational, etc.). •Should perform error-checking on data entry (e.g., prevent numeric data in text fields and vice versa, prevent new orders for customers on the bad credit file, etc.). •Should have the ability to extract and sort data in lots of interesting ways. •Should automatically generate reports that give you insight into the health of your business. •Should be able to rapidly process data (such as the remove e-mail example). •Should have the ability to send customized e-mails based on information in the database.

Richard Rabins Co-Chairman Alpha Software Burlington, Mass.

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