Training Colleagues to Use the Database Correctly

by Vanessa James

Dice's Guest AppearanceIf you’re like most IT professionals, you spend a lot of time fixing, improving and monitoring the company database. But are we really doing everything we can to make sure the database is running at its best?

We all know that the biggest database variables are the people using them. This is why we need to focus some of our time (not a lot, but some) on training employees to use the company database correctly. But let’s face it — training isn’t exactly our specialty. That’s OK. These tips can help you train employees to use the database without breaking it, without sucking too much of your time out of other, probably more important, projects.

Host a Seminar

The best way to explain database usage to employees is to show them. The most efficient way of doing this is to show all of the employees at once. Take a half hour out of a day when everyone is in and explain the importance of correct data input and show them exactly how to do that. If you need to have a couple of sessions to reach everyone, then do it. Keep the seminar short and engaging. Leave time for questions but in case no one has any, have some extra features to show off.

Make a Handout

This is a good thing to have at your seminar so people can take notes, and also to always have on hand to pass out, especially to new employees who may have missed your training. Make sure the handout is as simple and jargon-free as possible. Have step-by-step instructions with screen shots — imagine you’re writing an online tutorial.

Only Share the Basics

You may be fascinated by the inner workings and advanced functions of the company database, but other employees aren’t. Don’t go into the minute details of how the database works. They don’t need to know that. Just show them how to do what they need to do and let them get back to the part of their jobs that they enjoy.

Send Emails… But Not Too Often)

It’s important to let people know whether information has been entered incorrectly, and how to fix it. But if you send three emails a day, they’ll start to skim or even delete them without reading. Combine several points into one email in order to cut down on the quantity of messages, and only send emails about pertinent information.

Be sure to keep each message short and to the point. People will gloss over stuff they care less about, so bold or highlight key items. Also, only mark emails as important if they actually are. Otherwise people will start ignoring you altogether.

Make sure people know you’re the expert, and that if they have any questions they can ask you. By being approachable, you’ll avoid having the database clogged up with useless information and you’ll make your biggest variable — the people — more predictable.

Vanessa James is a business technology consultant specializing in database management. She has a passion for sharing her knowledge with individuals and companies alike. She currently writes for Oracle monitoring solutions provider

One Response to “Training Colleagues to Use the Database Correctly”

  1. It’s nice to update users about the database, but the key issue here is that no database should ever allow invalid data into it. If you allow that, you’re the problem! Develop your apps so that invalid data can never get into the database. Everything should be validated before being stored. If invalid data gets in, it’s your fault! If your company does not allow you the time to make things right, then it’s time to let them wallow in their bad decisions and move on.

    Meanwhile, you also need to make sure that all interfaces (input screens, import functions) clearly explain what type of data is expected so that bad data (not to be confused with invalid data) is unlike to arrive. In some cases you can do reasonableness checks to limit the potential problem.

    For example, if you have a date-of-birth field, you could label it as “Date” or “DOB” or “Born on” and hope that the user understands what that means, or label it with “Birth Date” (or “Date of Birth”) and improve the odds. Next you should ensure that the date is valid (not a number and not solely text) and reasonable (not within the last 15 years or more than 80 years for someone who’s an “employee” but still allow less than 15 or 80 by popping up a confirmation message…or whatever range is appropriate for your context, like 65+ for retired, and <18 for minors). Further, the back-end should have reports to locate any valid data outside an expected range so these can be reviewed.

    With proper data management, there's little need to waste company money on meetings about why you can't properly validate data, and then follow up with e-mails about why your data entry process is not doing its job.