When is a database not a database?

The unfortunate truth is too many databases, mostly Microsoft Access, are created by employees who have little to no experience.  So when is a database not a database?  When it was built (note, I did not say designed) by someone who does not do it regularly.  There are many, many analogies I could apply here but the most apt would be:  Would you let someone who has built a birdhouse, build your home?  No, you wouldn't.  You've got too much invested in it and I don't mean money.

Microsoft has a term for users of Access, they are called Information Workers.  Information workers typically don't have the time or money to invest in a full scale IT project.  So they've had a database class in college, maybe they've attended a 3 or 5 day training class or maybe they figure they have gotten so good at Excel, Access cannot be much more of a leap.  Sad truth is, this happens everyday.  I call the applications built in this fashion, organic IT.  An intern, an accountant, the guy who can configure email, you name it.  They all get the idea (or even the mandate) that they can do it, or it will serve just this one purpose and never leave their desk, but in the end it gets out in to the wild.  The wild being your small business.  Now you're storing data on customers, business processes, or product quality in a system with no backup plan, no documentation and no design.

Conversely, a traditional IT project would follow a system development life cycle.  A Software Developer would start with analysis and documentation of your needs past, present and future.  A design would be created to address these same needs, along with reliability, security and maintainability.  The design would then be implemented and tested.  Deployment and operations would be given equal diligence.  This application would then enter the maintenance phase where enhancements and modifications are addressed as your company grows with the design.

Do you notice the difference now between the term Information Worker and Software Developer?  Do you know when a database is not a database?

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