Database Development Companies: A Buyer's Guide
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We live in the Information Age. It has never been easier to collect, transfer, store and manipulate data than in the present era. Which is lucky; modern businesses have never had a greater need for data mastery. The effective management of data lets a company track and analyse its operations, interactions, assets and liabilities, transactions and more, which in an age that demands utmost accountability and efficiency is essential.
It’s therefore easy to see how data management becomes such a big issue for a business. Storing data in variously constructed and maintained spreadsheets leads to the under utilisation of data and a failure to make the most of its inherent value. A purpose built database allows a company to store all its important data on one system that can be accessed and updated by multiple users at the same time. It also allows for uniformity of data use and interpretation across an organisation and continuity as employees come and go.
Database development companies can build a bespoke database for any size and type of organisation, install it, support it and train staff in its use. This Buyers’ Guide will introduce the prospective database procurer to the key stages of database development and provide helpful hints for comparing different suppliers.
Establishing your Database Requirements
This is the initial and most fundamental step. The necessity for a thorough study and articulation of your company's requirements cannot be emphasized enough. It will not only give the developer a clear idea of your database needs, increasing the likelihood of obtaining a database which matches them, but also provides the framework for accurate quotes, helping you nail down your budget and timeframe.
The following questions may be helpful when determining your requirements:
- Will the database be used by one department only or cross-company?
- Consult each of your department heads in-depth about their data management requirements – what features and reporting tools do they need?
- How many users will require access?
- Will the database need to integrate with another piece of software/hardware? If so, define how.
- Will the database be used with a website or web based application?
- What is the technical proficiency of the intended users?
- Will different users have different permissions i.e. will there be parts of the database restricted to basic users?
Draw up a detailed requirements document, separating the mandatory needs from the optional. This will form the basis of your Invitation to Tender.
Finding Companies to Invite to Tender
Finding suitable database development companies from which to gather quotes can be tricky due to the sheer number of companies available. You want to select a good range of developers without contacting so many that you’re deluged with responses.
Internet searches will turn up a wealth of choices which is almost impossible to whittle down so the first recommended course of action is to ask business contacts or acquaintances for recommendations. If people have had good experiences with similar projects they’ll be only too happy pass on the name of the company that helped them.
Approved Database Developers can quickly contact four suitable database development companies on your behalf who meet the basic criteria and who can then quote for the work.
If you do resort to trawling Google results pages look for testimonials and references from previous clients which companies will display prominently if they have them. If you know you’re looking for a particular platform (e.g. MySQL, Oracle) then make sure the candidates list this among their specialities.
Evaluating Tenders and Conducting Interviews
Even for a fairly simple database you project on which you will embark with your developer will be lengthy and involved. Careful consideration of the proposals is therefore critical. You should check that the developers make provisions for all your requirements and that they plan to build and implement the solution in a timely manner.
Price should never be your only consideration but do be on the lookout for unnecessary additions and features that you did not request and which inflate the price tag.
An assessment of the tenders will help to narrow down the prospects to a shortlist, but a final decision should be based on both an evaluation of written proposals and in-person interviews with the various candidates. Here are some factors to consider when evaluating the contenders:
- Experience and expertise
Experienced database developers will not only be more likely to possess the skills and know how to meet your particular demands but is also more likely to remain in business, providing you with the option of ongoing support.
Expertise in your particular industry could also be hugely beneficial as they may well have encountered many similar problems before and have ready-made solutions.
Ask to see a list of references that you can contact. Ask these clients specific questions regarding the implementation and suitability of their database, the developer’s service and the availability of the developer after database completion. This will give you an invaluable insight into how your job will be handled. You may also ask to see samples of databases that have been created and assess these to determine whether they are user-friendly and employ a straightforward and practical interface. (Keep in mind, though, that training in using the databases is usually supplied).
Technological know-how does not give someone license to offer explanations filled with jargon. The right developer will be able to explain aspects of the job clearly and be open to any questions you might have. Good, clear communication between your business and the developer is absolutely essential, especially as the professional relationship will be a lengthy one.
Related to the issue of communication is that of support. Ensure that the database development proposal includes a certain amount of post-development technical and administrative support, as well as adequate staff training in using the database. The amount of support and training, as well as the types of user manuals or documentation to be provided, should be specified in the eventual contract.
- Contingency and Continuity
If you’re reliant on your data to the extent that you need a bespoke database solution then you obviously don’t want all that data disappearing in the event of hardware failure. Some developers offer back-up systems to prevent information loss.
Making the Final Selection
After considering the above factors you should have a clear idea of which developer is the best for the job. If there are a couple that are suitable then opt for the one whose personal skills and communication abilities most impressed you i.e. choose the person who you liked the most. You will be working in a long-term partnership with the developer and it is therefore important that you get along and understand one another.
Commencing the Development
Once you have chosen a database developer you’ll need to work together to plan the implementation of the new database. To promote an organized and structured process ensure that the job be divided into stages with completion of stages linked to phases of payment.
Firstly the developer should produce a functional specification to demonstrate how data entry and reporting will operate. Once this is approved development proper will begin and be followed by implementation, testing and training.
To minimise disruption to your organisation ensure that he roll-out is suitably phased and that testing is thorough with plenty of development support on offer. Implementation should be combined with training programmes so that your staff are ready to hit the ground running.
And that’s it – you’re now ready to begin your foray into the Information Age with a fully bespoke database solution. The most important thing to remember is not to be rushed into a decision. The time taken over selecting the most appropriate developer for the job will pay for itself many times over.