As a DBA, it takes more than just being a great technician to keep your customers happy. There are dozens of database experts that are willing to provide you with their own technical administration best practices. In this series, I intend to round out your knowledge to make you more than just a good administrator. And I have a news blast for you: if you want to be viewed as a strategic resource, being a technical expert isn’t enough. Whether your customers are internal or external (like mine here at RDX), if you focus on just providing great technical support, you are only winning half the battle when it comes to keeping your customers happy. Being a strong, well respected technician is an excellent career path.  The DBA profession is growing, and demand often exceeds the DBA supply.  Because of the trade you have chosen, the DBA position provides you with an excellent opportunity to play a more strategic role in your organization. One of the benefits that I am able to provide is that my organization supports over 400 remote database administration services customers. Our customer base spans the market spectrum from high technology to heavy industry. In addition to having every market sector represented, the size of our customer base also varies widely. We support organizations that have virtually no IT support teams to multi-national organizations consisting of huge IT staffs and hundreds of database servers. This gives me the unique perspective of having a broad knowledge of what customers expect from their database administration units. Name a market sector, and I would be highly surprised if we didn’t have dozens of customers representing it. Our customers’ technological strategies also vary widely. Some of our customers don’t want to push the technological envelope while others want to stay at the forefront of every new technological advancement. I was responsible for running service delivery at RDX for over a dozen years.   Our primary goal was, and still is, to be viewed as each customer’s strategic partner.  We never want to be seen as a “utility provider” (no added value, just keeping the lights on).   Providing excellent technical support is absolutely the foundation and most critical facet of your job, and our jobs as database administrators, but it is only one facet. Is this just a “remote DBA thing”? Absolutely not! You know that your customers expect you to be the technical expert. If you aren’t at the top of your game technically, you will never obtain credibility with them. But after you obtain that technical credibility – what’s next? That will be the focus of my next set of articles. Will this require you to change your entire strategy? Once again, absolutely not. Here’s a great quote that I often refer back to:

“Small changes can produce big results - but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.”

- Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Where do you start? How do you determine how you are viewed? Well, first, you need to know where you are starting from! Rest assured that as a DBA, you have the knowledge and skill sets at your disposal to become a strategic player in any organization.  Your role as a DBA has already “greased that slide” for you. The database’s area of influence has expanded to a point where it has become the heart of the modern IT infrastructure. Databases provide the mechanism to store physical data along with business rules and executable business logic. The database also provides the communication programs for both client and server.  The entire application environment (data storage, business rule enforcement, application program storage, communication, system monitoring) is controlled by the database.  Over time, the database engine will store more information related to the understanding of the business, the meaning of the data stored (metadata) and the mechanisms to secure, control and track versions of data objects, access programs and related software. Enterprises expect the DBMS to be available, secure and high performance. As a result, the DBA already plays a pivotal role in the organization. The DBA is often seen as the “GOTO” technician because of their traditionally strong problem solving skills. In addition, the DBA is seen as the IT staff’s technical generalist because of the working knowledge they have in many different facets of information technology:

  • Data Administration – The data administration role, although important, is rarely defined in many IT organizations. Those responsibilities, by default, are usually awarded to the shop’s database administration unit.  Data administrators view data from the business perspective and must have an understanding of the business to be truly effective.  DAs organize, categorize and model data based on the relationships between the data elements themselves and the business rules that govern them. Data administrators provide the framework for defining and interpreting data and its structure, enabling the organization to share timely and accurate data across diverse program areas resulting in sound information-based decisions.  As a result, DAs and DBAs often possess a very strong understanding of most business operations.

  • Operating System – The only folks that spend more time in the operating system than DBAs are the system administrators themselves. Database administrators must have an intimate knowledge of the operating systems and hardware platforms their databases are running on.  DBAs automate many functions and are usually accomplished script writers.  They have a strong understanding of operating system kernel parameters, disk and file subsystems, operating system performance monitoring tools, various operating system commands and server architectures.

  • Networking – Database administrators are responsible for end-to-end performance management. End users don’t care where the bottleneck is; they just want their data returned quickly. DBAs need to have expertise in basic networking concepts, terminologies and technology to converse intelligently with network administrators.

  • Data Security – Much to the consternation of many business data owners and security teams, the DBA is usually the shop’s database data security specialist. They have complete jurisdiction over the data stored in their database environments.  The DBA uses the internal security features of the database and third-party products to ensure that the data is available only to authorized users.

  • Architecture Design – The great thing about working with database technologies is that it our environment is never stagnant. The only constant in our industry is change itself.  The state of database technology is becoming increasingly complex in its architecture.   The days when the majority of supported systems consisted of single node DB servers have been over for some time.  Current administrators are required to possess a strong understanding of highly available multi-node clusters, multi-tier applications, horizontally scaling database architectures, service oriented architectures as well as cloud, private and hybrid system configurations.  The DBA’s knowledge is invaluable to overall system design.

In my next article, we’ll take a look at business value drivers - what’s important to them.   As a member of the IT organization, you need to mate the value of your services to business value.  IT has always shared a set of common goals with the business operations they support.  Here are the goals and a few examples to jumpstart our upcoming discussion:

  • Generate revenue

    • Development projects to improve existing business applications or support new business offerings

  • Reduce cost of doing business

    • Efficiently deploying technology to reduce human labor required to perform business operations and IT support activities

    • New technology/product evaluation and implementation – product purchase and support cost reductions

    • Software and hardware licensing reviews

    • Server consolidations

    • Fully leveraging IT product and technology features

    • Maximizing hardware resources

  • Improve quality

    • Enabling decision makers to make better business decisions by providing them with the information they need

    • Using application technology to reduce human business operational errors

  • Reduce risk

    • Critical business application availability, or in this case, unavailability (IT disruptions)

    • Intellectual property and data theft, data privacy

    • Data processing errors leading to incorrect business decisions, customer unhappiness and monetary loss

    • Regulatory non-compliance

    • Budget overruns

    • Providing data intelligence to reduce business decision risk

Look for a more in-depth discussion of IT and business operations shared value drivers in the next article of this series.   Thanks for reading!