The theme of this series of articles is that if you want to be viewed as a strategic resource in your organization, being a technical expert isn’t enough.  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. In this installment of The DBA Best Practices Series, we focus on your organization's 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.  In my last article, I provided a quick starter list to jumpstart our discussion:

  • 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 designed to reduce cost of doing business

    • Product purchase and support cost reductions

    • Software and hardware licensing reviews

    • Server consolidations

    • Fully leveraging the database's inherent feature set

    • Maximizing hardware resources

  • Generate revenue

    • Participating in development projects that improve existing business applications or support new business offerings

  • Improve quality

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

    • Using technology to reduce business operational errors

  • Reduce risk

    • Ensuring critical business application availability

    • Data security - Preventing  intellectual property and data theft, data privacy

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

    • Enforcing regulatory compliance

    • Preventing budget overruns

    • Providing data intelligence to reduce business decision risk

Let’s begin by discussing how you can reduce your organization’s cost of doing business by ensuring they fully maximize their database investment.  DBMS product licensing and vendor maintenance contracts command a premium price in the marketplace. To gain the most return on their database investment, IT organizations must ensure that they are fully leveraging the complete set of benefits that each database product inherently provides.

As information technology specialists, it is our responsibility to provide the greatest database functionality at the lowest cost to our customers. The bottom line is - the more options and features the database provides, the easier it becomes to implement applications and the more flexibility it provides to DBAs, developers and end-users.

Your current set of database-driven business applications may not currently be leveraging a particular feature, but future application requirements can not be predicted.  It is important to have as many feature choices as possible when designing new applications. The more solutions the database inherently provides, the more cost effective it becomes. These integrated features allow technical personnel to solve business problems without the additional costs of writing custom code and/or integrating multiple vendor solutions.

Now that we understand the importance of fully leveraging the database’s feature set, how do we ensure that we select and implement the features that provide our database-driven applications with the most benefit?  While understanding all of the inherent database features is important, implementing the features that bring each application the most benefit is the key to success.

The first step is to understand the features the database has to offer.  This doesn’t mean you have to become an expert in administering each and every one of them.  It means you have to understand what capabilities the feature provides then hypothesize how that feature would benefit a given application. One of the benefits of a very competitive database product market arena is that the product manufacturers provide a wealth of information on their feature set.

The features are prominently displayed on their website, whitepapers, datasheets and various database manuals. There’s a lot of information to cover, but the vendors make every attempt to have viewers quickly understand the feature’s capabilities.  Oracle and Microsoft both provide “focus areas” that categorize their features into High Availability, BI/Big Data, Information Integration and Management, Application Development, Security, etc…

Each new release of any database product contains numerous new features and functionality. Database vendors know that they must add new features to remain competitive. A competitive marketplace forces all software vendors to maximize their product’s inherent feature set. Constant innovation and integration of new features that differentiate their products from other vendors is an absolute requirement for their continued competitive survival.  This competitive environment requires that they present their feature set for current and new releases in a format that is quickly digestible by readers.

At RDX, we assign personnel to evaluate each new release’s feature set.   They begin their evaluation by reading the vendor’s marketing materials to identify new features that could be of benefit to our customers.   They then do what all good DBAs do when a new release comes out – they read the Database Version XXX New Features Guide that is always provided by the vendor.

We maintain information on database features in our internal Wikis.  It contains the feature name, a brief description of what it does and some notes on its current usability.  Not all features “work as advertised” from their initial technical genesis.   It’s usually fairly easily to find peoples’ opinions on database features as most administrators are very vocal when they find a feature that doesn’t work as well as they would like. Do some internet searches, and you’ll quickly find a wealth of information.  Look for information from reviewers that have a strong following of readers and are well known in the database community.   Once you begin reading reviews, you will be able to identify common themes of opinions for the database feature you are analyzing.

Once you have a general understanding of the database’s feature stack, you can turn your attention to application and business needs.  In addition to your own knowledge of the business applications your databases support, your friendly application development teams will be instrumental in your quest to gather this information.  You’ll find that the developers have the same goal that you do – fully leverage technology features that help them deliver greater value to their customers.  These discussions are instrumental in mating the database’s inherent feature set to technology and business needs.

As stated previously, it is impossible to become an expert in all database features.  The environments have become way too complex.  The key is to have a general understanding of the database’s feature set and use your business savvy to identify when they should be leveraged.  Once that feature is identified, if you’re the person on tap to implement it, your goal will be to take the next step and focus on implementation, configuration and administration.

The key to success is to be alert when talking to your developers and business users.  When they discuss their current needs, pain points and future strategies, you should always ask yourself, “Can my database products inherently provide the capability they are looking for?”

In my next installment, we’ll continue our focus on cost reduction. We’ll discuss database licensing reviews, database version comparisons (i.e. standard vs enterprise), open source vs commercial software and various database cost reduction projects.