I received an email recently from a client of mine, an association that I’m assisting with selection of a new association management system.
My client asked me, now that they’re getting an enterprise-wise system, what kinds of skills she would need to manage this kind of database. As she put it, “How can I have a better understanding of the database? How do I ask the right questions to get the most out of the database?”
These are great questions and just having the presence to ask these questions is a step in the right direction. I’ve covered some ideas in the past on the skills a database manager needs. Here are four additional areas database managers need to be adept in.
- You have to understand what kind of data your association is collecting and managing, and how it is used at your association. The very best database managers know why every piece of data is in their database. I was recently working with a small association on selecting a new AMS, and the IT director said to me, “It’s only been in the past year, when we had so many problems with our current system, that I’ve really begun to understand how we do things at this association.” That’s exactly what should happen. The database manager should understand how all the data is managed, throughout the association.
- You have to understand the relationship between individual and organization records, and other types of records (e.g., committee records, events, products, etc.) in your database. The very best database managers understand the concept of database entities and they understand how those entities are associated with and related to each other. For example, your database likely contains entities for individual and organizational records, committees, and likely committee positions. A good database manager understands how each of these are related, so that when queries need to be created to find key data (e.g., how long has John served on a given committee) the database manager can help staff write these queries or find this data.
- You have to understand how the primary database relates to your finance system, your website, and other third party systems. If you’ve got a centralized data management system, at a minimum that system should be “talking to” (integrated with) your website and your financial management system. (See this white paper for more on how these systems are related.) And it’s quite likely you’ve got other third-party systems in use in your organizations, such as registration companies and/or websites, broadcast email tools, political action sites, and others. You must know how all of these systems interact with each other and the primary database. And to the extent possible, all of these systems should be integrated so that no re-keying of data is every required.
- You have to execute consistent data integrity checks on your database. No matter the size or complexity of your database, a database is only as good as the data in it. And as I’ve written many times in the past, you have to work at keeping that data clean and up-to-date. One of the many ways to do that is to establish and execute periodic (daily, weekly, monthly) data integrity queries and reports. If you are not actively managing your data, it will very soon become stale and useless, and quickly diminish the value of your entire system.
Having these additional skills will allow you to better manage your database and data, and ultimately advance your organization’s mission.
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