In our previous articles, we compared spreadsheets to databases. We recommended upsizing to a customised database solution when your spreadsheet reaches its limit of effectiveness. Since databases require a degree of skill and knowledge, we further recommended making use of a consultant programmer.
In this article, we look at how you can make this decision and how to plan for such a leap. It sometimes may seem to be a daunting prospect, especially if it is the first time you are going down this road. These guidelines will help you put everything into a more structured approach.
Define the minimum outcomes required
Take a look at your spreadsheet and think about what, in essence, the outcomes are and write them down. Try to categorise in broad strokes and then define the detail for category.
For example, you may have a spreadsheet that tracks sales for each salesperson. You may require that the outcomes are a monthly breakdown of sales for each salesperson, total sales for the month, sales for each customer and commissions calculations.
Your categories might be customers and salespeople. Under each category, you would then list the requirements for data capture, calculations and reports in as much detail as possible.
This provides the consultant with the initial framework for the design of the database structure.
Define any additional “nice to haves”
It makes sense that, while you are embarking on this project, to consider the added features or functionality that would be great to have included in the database.
In our example above, you may wish to include an invoicing feature.
Schedule the project
Since you are currently frustrated with the spreadsheet you are using, it would be great to be able to implement your database right away. However, reality dictates that there will be database development involved, which is proportional to the size and complexity of the project.
Work on two scenarios: the best scenario, which would be right away, and the absolute worst scenario, which would be a number of months away. With the latter, determine a date which is non-negotiable for the system to be working and operational. The ideal scenario is somewhere in between these two, which must be discussed with the consultant.
Remember, the consultant is in all likelihood servicing other clients and needs to schedule his/her work accordingly.
Decide on a budget
Most consultants cost their jobs on a time/value basis. This will be the means by which they will cost your job, and it is usually based largely on thumb suck estimates, with their experience in the industry.
Remember, the consultant is an expert in database consulting and development. They will not necessarily know much about your particular industry. So, your involvement is key to the success of the project.
When deciding on a budget, it should, obviously, be affordable for your organisation.
Engage with the consultant
Your initial meeting with the consultant should start off with a discussion about his/her experience, background and capabilities. References are essential and a portfolio of their work should be available, usually on their laptop, for you to look at.
Discuss your current situation and the problems you are facing. This should be a fairly lengthy conversation and you should be prepared to show them the spreadsheets and paper-based system you want integrated into the database.
Ask for their assessment and how they think the problem should be resolved. Also, ask them what they think the project would cost. If you fall off your chair at this point, inform them of the budget you have available and find out what they think they can offer within these constraints.
Ask for a written proposal and indicate that you would require a non-disclosure agreement to be signed before proceeding.
Do not give them any copies of spreadsheets at this stage. You should, however, be prepared to give them printouts with notes for them to work with, in preparing their proposal.
Arrange the next meeting, in which they will present their proposal and ideas.
This will be the start of something good, in that you will be entering into a partnership with the consultant. There will, over time, be many modifications to your database, as your business changes.