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It may be easiest to think of a database as being the computer version of the old-fashioned file cabinet that is filled with folders containing information. The database is the information, and the database specialist is the person who designs or adjusts programs that determine how the information is stored, how separate pieces of information relate and affect one another, and how the overall system should be organized. For example, a specialist may set up an online retailer's customer database to have a separate "record" for each customer, in the same way that the retailer may have had a separate file folder in its file cabinet for each customer. In the retailer's sales database, each sale represented by an invoice will have a separate record. Each record contains many "fields" where specific pieces of information are entered. Examples of fields for a customer database might include customer number, customer name, address, city, state, ZIP code, phone, and contact person. Examples of fields in a sales database might include customer number, item purchased, quantity, price, date of purchase, and total. With information organized in separate fields, the retailer can easily sort customer records or invoices, just like filing folders in a file cabinet. In this way, the retailer could print a list of all its customers in Iowa, for example, or total sales for the month of April.
In the same way that records within a database can be sorted, databases themselves can be related to each other. The customer database can be related to the sales database by the common field: customer number. In this way, a business could print out a list of all purchases by a specific customer, for example, or a list of customers who purchased a specific product.
Database specialists are responsible for the flow of computer information within an organization. They make major decisions concerning computer purchases, system designs, and personnel training. Their duties combine general management ability with a detailed knowledge of computer programming and systems analysis.
The specific responsibilities of a database specialist are determined by the size and type of employer. For example, a database specialist for a telephone company may develop a system for billing customers, while a database specialist for a large store may develop a system for keeping track of in-stock merchandise. To do this work accurately, database specialists need a thorough knowledge and understanding of the company's computer operations.
There are three main areas of the database specialist's work: planning what type of computer system a company needs; implementing and managing the system; and supervising computer room personnel.
To adequately plan a computer system, database specialists must have extensive knowledge of the latest computer technology and the specific needs of their company. They meet with high-ranking company officials and decide how to apply the available technology to the company's needs. Decisions include what type of hardware and software to order and how the data should be stored. Database specialists must be aware of the cost of the proposed computer system as well as the budget within which the company is operating. Long-term planning is also important. Specialists must ensure that the computer system can process not only the existing level of computer information received, but also the anticipated load and type of information the company could receive in the future. Such planning is vitally important since, even for small companies, computer systems can cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Implementing and managing a computer system entails a variety of technical and administrative tasks. Depending on the organization's needs, the specialist may modify a system already in place, develop a whole new system, or tailor a commercial system to meet these needs. To do this type of work, the database specialist must be familiar with accounting principles and mathematical formulas. Scheduling access to the computer is also a key responsibility. Sometimes, database specialists work with representatives from all of a company's departments to create a schedule. The specialist prioritizes needs and monitors usage so that each department can do its work. All computer usage must be documented and stored for future reference.
Safeguarding the computer operations is another important responsibility of database specialists. They must make plans in case a computer system fails or malfunctions so that the information stored in the computer is not lost. A duplication of computer files may be a part of this emergency planning. A backup system must also be employed so that the company can continue to process information. Database specialists must also safeguard a system so that only authorized personnel have access to certain information. Computerized information may be of vital importance to a company, and database specialists ensure that it does not fall into the wrong hands.
Database specialists may also be responsible for supervising the work of personnel in the computer department. They may need to train new computer personnel hires to use the company's database, and they may also need to train all computer personnel when an existing database is modified. At some organizations, specialists are also required to train all employees in the use of an upgraded or a new system. Therefore, specialists need the ability to translate technical concepts into everyday language.
Database specialists may be known by a number of different titles and have a variety of responsibilities, depending on the size and the needs of the organizations that employ them. According to an article in ComputerWorld, the title database designer indicates someone who works on database programming. These workers usually have a math or engineering background. The title database administrator indicates someone who primarily focuses on the performance of the database, making sure everything is running smoothly. They may also do routine jobs, such as adding new users to the system. The title database analyst indicates someone who primarily focuses on the business, its goals, products, and customers. They work on improving the database so that the organization can meet its goals. In large businesses or organizations, the many duties of the database specialist may be strictly divided among a number of specialists. In smaller organizations there may be only one database specialist, designer, manager, administrator, or analyst who is responsible for carrying out all the tasks mentioned above. No matter what their title is, however, all database specialists work with an operation that processes millions of bits of information at a huge cost. This work demands accuracy and efficiency in decision-making and problem-solving abilities.