The Difference Between Data Management and Database Management

As the title of this article suggests, there is a difference between data management (using the data) and database management (keeping the tool running). It is analogous to  your car and your car’s mechanic. As the owner of your car, you know how to use it, and how to get the most value out of using it. You decide whether to drive to work or take public transportation. You know whether to turn your car right or left to get to your destination.

On the other hand, your mechanic knows how to keep your car running most efficiently. He keeps it tuned up with oil changes, spark plugs, belts, etc., but doesn’t necessarily know the best uses for your car, based on your needs (nor should he).

When it comes to running your database, you need to have someone managing the data (the driver) as well as someone managing the database (the mechanic). This is not to say that one person can’t do both jobs, but they require different skill sets.

A good data manager understands the association’s business and mission. She understands the kinds of programs and services the association provides, and how these programs and services are used by the members.  Most important, she understands how the association’s data can be used to effectively improve marketing and communications activities, identify new opportunities, and how this data can be used to advance the association’s mission. In other words, the data manager understands how to use the data to get where you want to go.

Your database manager, meanwhile, is a mechanic. He helps the association understand the tools and technology that are available to make the database and related technology even more effective. He knows the most efficient way to extract data from the database, how disparate systems should integrate, and what the best processes are for managing the data within the database. The database manager should understand the mission of the organization, but doesn’t have to know where you are going to do his job most effectively.

These skill sets are unique, and finding one individual who possesses both is possible but unusual. Ideally, you would have two staff people to handle each function. So the natural question is: If I can only have one of these, which should I have? The answer, I think, is easy. Do you need a driver, or a mechanic? If you have a late model car, your need for a mechanic should be very rare. And if you have a fairly well-built association management system, you shouldn’t need a database manager, but if you are going to get anywhere, you need a driver.


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