Prepared by: Ekaete Bassey Fujah
Sep 10, 2020
People who were serious about information 1 to 3 generations ago had entire sets of encyclopedias in their homes or offices, made up of maybe 30 volumes or so. This information was of course largely static with updates to the information few and far between. A lot of information gathering was only possible by physically going to places such as libraries, museums, etc.
A lot has changed since then. Try and imagine a world today without Google or Bing or even Yahoo once upon a time. And then perish the thought. The things we take the most for granted today are built on Databases that were not within the reach of just anybody as recently as 30 years ago. Your
cell mobile phone, even the ‘Palasa’ phone, is full of Data. Websites are databases. Everything you purchase online is purchased from a Database of what the vendor has available. There are Warehouse Databases for storing information long term and using for analysis etc. There are Operational Databases that need to operate in real-time such as the ones used by online stores.
What is Data?
Data is information about something, anything.
An address book is a great example. You have a contacts list. For each of your contacts, you have contact person, company, addresses, city, phone numbers, email addresses, trade/discipline/job and so on. You can find out the phone number of a specific contact. You may also be looking for all the Plumbers on your contact list.
With most smartphones today, if you started to type Plumber, all the entries with ‘Plumber’ as part of the entry, would be pulled up. Suffice it to say that the better the organization of data entries on your phone, the easier and quicker it will be for you to retrieve information. How it works best for you is of course important – ‘Okey Tiler, Titus Ironbender, Saliu Plumber, Kofo POP, you get the picture.
What is Big Data and Why is it Useful?
Big Data is a combination of Structured, Semi-Structured, and Unstructured Information. The type that you could very well find in the offices of an Architectural firm. Starting in the middle, your Client database could be semi-structured, or even unstructured if you are happy to keep the information on your clients in your head. Maybe your payroll is more structured with the right payments going to the right people, at the right time, with the right deductions. Maybe your income and expenditure is recorded in a structured manner. What about your ‘Petty Cash’? Your reference library could be completely unstructured. Every time you need Planning regulations for example, rather than looking through all the various regulation documents you have in your library from different years, you might get on the phone and ask colleagues near and far or your go-to Planning Approval ‘facilitator’ for the information you need for your project.
A Database is a Structured Collection of related information. A Database could also be a business application. A Database is a container for data and associated objects.
Sometimes in Architectural firms, we are not much different from people who make their living on the streets from daily wages or daily income. We just keep spinning wheels without the information necessary to make informed decisions. Informed decisions, that is what Databases are made for. So who is your most valuable client? It may not be the one who gave you 10 projects (where you could have made a loss trying o keep them happy). It could be the one who gave you 2 jobs and a very clear brief so that everything was tracked and accounted for. Talking about which the data from your brief is important. It should tie into your drawings, which should tie into the documentation that will become your specifications and bills of quantities which will inform not just cost, but schedule, logistics, and so on.
A database is intended to be a living document. It is to be accessed, reviewed, updated as need be. That is why what Google offers is more a standard that we now all expect than just a brand. A Building Information Model is a Database, but that is a story for another day.
Databases tell your story. They show you trends. They show you what is working and what is not; where you are winning and where you are losing. They will help you when you want to or need to pivot. To be able to work for you, a Database has to be managed. it has to be constantly fed with information. The correct relationships between pieces of information have to be designed into the database.
What Do Databases Do?
- Store Data
- Backup and Recover Data
- Present Data
- Report on Data
- Multiple Use Access Control
- Security of Data
- Database Communication
What Applications are used to create Databases?
Examples of Database Management software include:
- Microsoft Excel
- Microsoft Access
One user can create and manage database management systems created with these applications.
You can use Microsoft Excel to store lists of records, sort and filter them, but there is a limit to the number of records. Microsoft Access can handle large databases with big data-entry needs, including importing data created in Microsoft Excel. Microsoft Excel can also be used to create Database Applications.
Relational DataBase management systems also include:
- SQL Server
- Oracle Database
Relational Databases are built on Table/Column/Row structures. Data is stored in related tables. For example, you could have vendors on one table and the services they provide on another table, the materials they sell on another table and so on. You create multiple tables to make data entry simpler. The tables created are related to each other using a common field between them. Normalization is the process of breaking up data into the smallest possible parts and is a requirement when you are creating a Relational Database.
The more recent and innovative NoSQL and Object-Oriented Databases do not follow this approach but instead use ‘bookshelves’ with chunks of information to help you narrow down your search to specific bookshelves and with the help of a mechanical assistant, to the specific information you are looking for.
Database Objects Include:
- Code Modules
Tables contain information about a single topic and that information is organized into rows and columns.
A Table can be viewed just like any Spreadsheet. This is a Database is called a Datasheet.
Table/Datasheet Rows contain Records
Table/Datasheet Columns contain Fields
Where a record and a field intersect is a value which is the actual data element.
Queries are used to search for, sort, and retrieve specific data.
Forms allow you to enter and display data in a customized format.
Reports display and print formatted Data.
Macros are created by stringing commands together to automate tasks without programming. Code Modules contain programming statements written in VBA.
Creating a Database in Microsoft Access
What you need to know and how you are going to use your database are some of the things to consider and Plan, when you want to create your database. Thoroughly planning ahead as much as possible will guaranty better outcomes with your database.
You should use something like a flow chart to plan the tables needed, fields needed, and draw arrows to indicate possible relationships between them.
The Process should look something like:
- Name your database
- List information you plan to get from it periodically
- List possible fields
- Break the list of fields into possible groups.
- Decide what is unique about each record. This must not be the same for any two records. Examples are Customer ID number, as it is possible to have 2 customers with the same name.
- Next you will figure out how to use the Data – eg, reports you would like to create including WHT files should be included in the report. You can also figure out other ways of using the data such as contact lists, price lists etc.
- List all the places your data currently resides. – on cards in boxes, in MS Excel sheets etc., ARCON Database, Manufacturers Association Database etc.
You can enter information in your Database row by row or use a form with the different fields to make your record entries.
Reports are an important part of Microsoft Access and are intended to be customized as you see fit.
You can also publish your Database onto your company’s SharePoint.