Database Design and Construction; Database Design - Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Article excerpt

Are you involved in moving from a print oriented publishing operation to an online or CD-ROM version; a retrospective library conversion project; in creating litigation support files; or faced with converting large existing files of printed material to electronic media?

If you answered yes to any of the above, or think that you might soon be involved in such activities, there are certain building blocks and decision points that can help you in file designs as well as in the eventual production process. Based on our own considerable experience in similar projects, we will discuss these issues and their impact on creating a database. This particular article will have a general focus with more detailed treatment of individual scenarios to follow in subsequent issues of Information Today.

With the recent proliferation of PCs, and growing familiarity with such applications as LOTUS 1-2-3, DBASE, FOXPRO, and NUTSHELL, many assume that setting up a database is a simple task. Unfortunately, we face the "black box" syndrome whereby management, unaware of the complexities involved, just wants to load the data and expects a full blown database to appear. A frequent comment is, "Why can't you just scan it all into the computer?" Such simple assumptions overlook the internal structure that must be designed and built-in before a database can function.

The initial question, of course, is what purpose will be served by building a database? For example, will it support internal operations? In what way? Who will use the data? Will a print product result, or will the data only be available in an electronic format? Does an external market exist for the data? Only by knowing who will use the data, and how it will be used, can the design phase begin. Another point to be considered early on is the size and scope of the data or collection to be input. Quite often, as things get underway, some additional data, documents, or material are turned up that should have been considered initially. These "surprises" often adversely impact costs, staffing levels, and schedules. …