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Databases can improve employee productivity, efficiency

As a business owner, you're well aware of what technology brings to your organization. Tools such as e-mail, word-processing applications and the Internet are used daily and essentially taken for granted as necessary for the continuing success of your company. What you might not know, however, is just how vital a customized, database-driven application can be to the fortunes of your business.

To be sure, you're probably familiar with the database, and probably use one or two on a routine basis. Databases power many of the applications you use on a daily basis, including perhaps so-called legacy softwaresoftware custom-written to suit the unique needs of your organization. The functionality of the common database is also present in Microsoft's ubiquitous Excel program, as well as Microsoft Access and a host of other well-known applications.

What many business owners don't know is that a Web-based database application can transform a task essential to the operation of your organization from tedious and time-consuming to dynamic and exceptionally efficient. Consider what a database-driven application, written specifically to meet the unique needs of your business, can bring to the table: Multiple users can access vital company information simultaneously, make changes that refresh in real time, and run critical reports that allow more fluid, accurate and productive decision-making.

A few years ago, my company, Area-Wide Technologies, authored a custom, Web-based database application to manage the growing number of work orders our network technicians were fulfilling on a daily basis. As hard as it is for me to fathom just a few years later, we had previously been utilizing a primitive, text-only system that did not allow for simultaneous access among company employees, provided no reporting functionality and did not integrate with the company's accounting software.

The system our team of software developers authored allows for an unlimited number of users to access the database at any time, integrates seamlessly with our accounting software and provides real-time reporting to departmental supervisors, thus enabling them to measure vital metrics such as productivity, billable hours and work history logs for predefined or custom date ranges. Perhaps most importantly, the system may be accessed from the user's desktop or from the Internet, allowing our employees in the field to record crucial information while onsite addressing clients' needs, or even from home if the needs of a particular client prevented them from returning to the office that day.

Area-Wide's transition to this custom, Web-based application quite literally changed the way we did business, and a database application written to address business needs unique to your organization can do the same for you. Take a moment to ponder the daily processes crucial to the day-to-day operation of your business. Are there tasks that seem inefficient or that seemingly require days to complete (such as end-of-month accounting)? These tasks can be transformed from irritating to easy in the blink of an eye with the development of a customized database solution.

A good friend of mine with a successful business had, for years, been relying on the handy, but, at times, limited, tools available through Microsoft's Excel software to conduct some of the tasks most crucial to the success of his company. In a nutshell, a team lead would create an Excel file, then e-mail it to those in need of the information. The recipients of this file would, in turn, modify the document, then pass it on to further employees in need of the information. With just a few clicks of the mouse, multiple versions of the original Excel file were in existence, with none of the subsequent versions reconciling with the original.

This friend turned to a database developer to address this potentially serious problem. The developer created a Web-based, database-driven application that allowed the data previously contained in an Excel spreadsheet to be uploaded to a single point of access, thus enabling an unlimited number of users to access data with completely verifiable integrity. These users could then create and run reports customized to their particular needs, and, if necessary, upload changes that would immediately be visible to every other user within the organization. By harnessing the power of the database, this business owner eliminated a potential data minefield and instantly upped the productivity of his employees.

I've seen what databases can do, both within my own company and within those of clients and friends, and I can't recommend strongly enough for you to take stock of vital procedures within your organization and consider where a database could simplify, improve, and even revolutionize the way your company does business. You'll be glad you did.

- Jeff Facer is owner and CEO of Area-Wide Technologies in Champaign. He can be reached at (217) 359-8041 or jfacer@areawidetech.com.

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