Databases for Small Projects
There are many instances where you may not need an enterprise level database system like Oracle or SQL server. Obviously, not every business or home user requires a multi-user relational RDBMS database with advanced security features. Unless you are creating a large-scale Data Warehouse for big data, and engage in data science, data modeling and machine learning as a profession, a simpler desktop database system will likely be far more useful. This is especially the case if you are tracking less then 100,000 records, and have a newer computer system with a reasonable amount of memory.
If you are just looking for something for one desktop computer, many inexpensive but capable systems with solid architecture are available. In fact, if you need to keep track of business inventory, customers, contacts or invoices, there is a good chance you can find an off the shelf program that does everything you need. In comparison to large scale database systems, these smaller database engines don’t have a steep learning curve and won’t cost a fortune. And unlike cloud-based systems (where your data is stored online), desktop applications won’t have recurring monthly fees.
Another advantage of going with this type of premade desktop system is that you do not need any programming expertise. While there are free database systems available like MySQL and SQLite, these types of tools require potentially expensive programming expertise to setup. Even simpler NoSQL database like MongoDB will not work out of the box. You will need a programmer skilled in a modern development language like Java, Python, PHP or C# to create a backend that communicates with your database.
Another alternative would be to use a popular commercial system like Microsoft Access or FileMaker. While these types of systems make it a little bit easier to setup a database, and include integrated reporting, they still require knowledge and expertise to leverage. As a small business owner, you probably have no interest in learning about arrays, tables, keys, columns, rows, joins, queries, ACID compliance, normalization and all the other technical jargon that goes with creating a database. And even if you took the time to learn about these topics (overcoming the steep learning curve), you’d still need to decide between a document or relational database structure and you’ll need to design and setup all database fields and relationships. If you want to save yourself the headache, consider an off the shell system, like our own Tracker Ten.
Templates for Small Business and Home Use
Off the shelf systems often come with predefined templates to suit your specific needs. And you can sometimes find free open-source resources like Microsoft Access templates and Microsoft Excel templates. They can be used for all sorts of applications including inventory control, student tracking, school course tracking, library management, leads tracking, customer relationship management, retail point of sale inventory, hospitality management, restaurant management, equipment maintenance expense tracking, real estate property management, information technology computer hardware tracking, volunteer tracking, and more.
Premade templates will already have data areas setup to track common items like names, addresses, notes and images. They will also include more specialized schemas depending on the application. And typically, you can further customize templates by changing field names and data areas to suit your exact needs.
In fact, our own Tracker software comes in over 50 different versions, all with different feature sets and field setups. We offer everything from logistics and supply chain management software all the way to customer relationship management (CRM) systems. By selecting a database software package with a predefined template, you don’t need to spend time customizing or setting up fields. All of the hard work is done for you.
Database Functions and Features You Need
When you are looking for a database for a small business orientated purpose, there are some key features that you should look for, regardless of the particular application. Choosing the right application will let you efficiently coalesce your data, guard your data from intruders and it will also easily blend into your existing workflow. You should also be able to easily flashback to view historical data. With a complete picture of your data, your database software should help you innovate, it shouldn’t stifle your productivity.
First and foremost, you need to be comfortable with your database’s user interface. You want to make sure you can easily enter all needed information. Whether your database uses windows forms or tables, you want the system to support quick data entry. You also want to be able to easily add and remove records. If getting information into the system is cumbersome, you are far less likely to use it. A sophisticated and powerful database engine is pointless without a solid front end. And choosing the right user interface is partially a personal preference, so if at all possible, you should demo database systems before purchasing them.
Next, you want to make sure your database is capable of returning the right information when you have a question. This means that there needs to be a way to search, query and filter information, sort it and display it. When you are searching for information, you need the flexibility to search for date ranges, numbers and strings of text. Your system may even be able to go one step further by offering automated alerts and reminders when inventory falls below a certain level, or you need to follow-up with a customer. In fact, there is a good chance you can setup numerous conditions that can trigger automated alerts.
For viewing information, you want systems that include a wide variety of reporting and data visualization tools. Specifically, a reporting engine should let you display any combination of images and fields in your database. You’ll also likely want the ability to add meta-data to your reports including titles, headers and footers and you will want to be able to adjust report appearance including font style, font size and margins. Some systems may even include more sophisticated data visualization tools, like charts and graphs.
You should also be able to filter information on the report based on searches. Another nice feature is the ability to summarize financial and numeric fields by day, month or year, especially if you rely on your system to help you with your taxes, year end reports and other related tasks. Finally, you should be able to load and save report formats, saving you time if you commonly use the same reports (for example a monthly sales history). Our Tracker Ten system includes all of these important features.
In addition to core functionality, other features to look for include file encryption; password protection for security; compression backup features so you can easily restore data in case of unexpected problems; image tracking if you want to include pictures of your data; document tracking if you have PDFs or word processing files associated with your data; and import/export features so you can move data between systems. And for systems that you would like to integrate with a website or mobile devices, you may want Restful Web API features that can import and export information to and from your database in JSON format.
And depending on your application you may look for more specialized functionality like invoicing, receipt generation, mass email, barcode generation and scanning and time tracking. Some systems may even be able to automatically import item information from an outside service. For example, our Tracker Ten for Books software has the ability to scan a barcode and automatically import book details including title, author, publisher and more.
Lastly, you need to make sure that your database can grow with your business. Try and anticipate your growth to see if your selected system will be able to keep up. While performing this analysis, it’s important to realize that your computer hardware can also impact system performance. In some instances, you may be able to continue to use your selected software for years, provided that you update your hardware as needed (however in this case you should make sure your software and database can be moved to a newer PC). In other cases, you may need to move to a different database software platform. If you are forced to migrate to a different platform, at the very least you should make sure that you can easily export information out of your system, so you can migrate to a more powerful system if the need arises.
How a Small Database Can Help You
Even a small database can have a huge impact on your productivity and efficiency. In fact, your data is very possibly the foundation on which you build your small business. And you don’t always need a multi-thousand-dollar system. Here are some everyday examples of how our inexpensive desktop database applications can benefit your small business, home or company:
The above is just a small sample of the products we offer. If you have more specialized information tracking needs, please contact us. There is a good chance we can come up with a solution for you!
Database for a New Business
Maybe you have an idea for a new business, and you are just starting out as a sole proprietorship, partnership or LLC, with a solid business plan in hand. As you have probably found expenses can quickly add up including rent, utilities, franchise fees, insurance, employee costs and more. Information technology and computer costs can quickly add up. And as a new business you probably haven’t accounted for information technology staff on your organizational chart. In the beginning your balance sheet might look quite daunting.
This is exactly the situation where you may want to leverage an off the shelf database system to track your inventory, customers, invoicing, sales and more. In fact, after you have purchased something like QuickBooks to handle your bookkeeping, payroll and accounting, and TurboTax to handle your taxes, your next priority should be tracking your business intelligence, assets and information.
By purchasing prebuilt database applications, you can satisfy all of your information tracking needs and you can put a cap on your new business software costs. And you might even be able to find a small business grant or small business loan to cover the cost.
Smaller Databases for Larger Enterprises
Smaller database systems are not only useful in small business or homes. Departments within larger companies can benefit from desktop database applications as well. For example, you may operate a large manufacturing firm, but you still need to keep track of office supplies. Instead of using an enterprise level database system for this simple task, you may elect to use an off the shelf system. As long as the application meets your requirements, you will realize benefits.