Can You Over-Organize Your Data?

Oh Yes, You Can!

If you’re old enough to remember this, think back to the days before digital cameras. You had to buy film, and on average a roll took 24 pictures. And you had to drive to a store to get them developed!

Because of the expense, processing and time involved in photography, people were choosy about the pictures they took. As a result, people generally had a limited number of photos from every momentous event in their lives.

Fast forward to today’s digital world. Photography is essentially free, other than the cost of the camera(phone), and “developing” is instantaneous. So people shoot photos of everything! You might find 15 different photos of someone’s breakfast on their phone. Instead of a few hundred photos, people now have thousands upon thousands.

And this holds true in business, too. Digital documents, images, contact information, project requirements, and other important business collateral can be created quickly and easily and stored on a hard drive for free. So, like individuals, businesses can collect a massive amount of data. And because they have it, they feel they need to hold onto it – indefinitely.

And that means putting a lot of time and effort into filing and organizing, creating backups and then creating backups of the backups. Is this the best way to deal with all this data?

Garbage In, Garbage Out

This is a well-known phrase, often used in computer science circles. The idea is that the quality of your output is a function of the quality of your input. If you put garbage in, you can’t expect to get anything but garbage back out. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to spin garbage into gold.

Consider your data storage from this perspective. If you’re holding onto every bit of collateral you’ve ever created or received, including drafts, client emails, old sales material, expired contact information, and a host of related data, what value do you get from the time spent organizing it?

It’s likely that quite a bit of the information you’re holding onto was only relevant at the time it was created. Much of it is redundant, repetitive, and isn’t something you’ll ever need again. If you put this much garbage into your data storage efforts, your future searches are going to spit garbage right back out at you.

Consider a calendar. They’re a useful tool for keeping tabs on important events. They make sure that the things you need to remember cut through the clutter. But what happens if the calendar becomes the clutter?

What happens when you overload it with unimportant events, random thoughts, and other extraneous information that doesn’t belong on a calendar? You wind up with a calendar that no longer helps you. Finding the truly important information becomes a chore, and it’s likely you’ll forget important events because you can’t see them amid all the garbage.

The first step in creating an effective organizational scheme is to make certain that you really need to keep everything. If you can trim the clutter, your organizational efforts will be more effective. You’ll be able to find the things you need because you’ve only held onto necessary items.

Use the Right Application for the Job

Organization usually involves more than just sorting things into columns. Storing your digital files in folders will keep them contained and organized, but it doesn’t help you find things when you need them.

Imagine if you put all of your photos in a folder called “Photos”. You’ll know where to look when you need a particular image but finding it among its cohorts won’t be easy. And if you start dividing your photos into subfolders based on events or some other criteria, you can fall down a rabbit hole that ends with a dense folder structure that took days or weeks to build.

And you’ll probably never look at most of the photos.

Spreadsheets to the Rescue?

You might be tempted to build a rudimentary database inside an Excel spreadsheet, one that contains all of your necessary data, along with some keyword columns for sorting purposes.

This can be an effective strategy, but it doesn’t scale well. If you’re keeping tabs on a few hundred assets, a spreadsheet allows you relatively quick access when you need something specific. But the challenges build quickly as the volume of tracked data grows.

Eventually, you’ll reach a point where the amount of effort it takes to expand and maintain the database far outweighs the utility you can derive from it. You wind up with a bloated spreadsheet filled with thousands of entries that are hard to parse and search.

Spreadsheets are also difficult to share when coworkers or employees need access to saved files or customer information. If they don’t understand exactly how the spreadsheet was built and the proper methodologies for sorting and searching, they won’t be able to find what they need, and they’ll come back to you with questions. As in our earlier example, you wind up with an organizational system that makes your life harder, not easier.

What Else Is Available?

If you have a particularly large pool of data, you might look into Microsoft Access. This basic database management tool is good for effectively organizing large datasets and keeping the information accessible and sensible.

On an enterprise level, Access alone may not be robust enough to handle the volume of data required or the complexity of the relationships between elements. In this case, you can build an Access front end with an SQL back end or use Access with Azure on the back end. You can also go with a fully custom web application solution.

There are options to fit every organization and every saved data set. The trick is to work out what you really need, and then find the solution that best delivers it. Here we explain how to choose the correct database program for you.

Let Us Help You Find or Design the Perfect Solution for You

At JN Software Consulting we’ve dealt with every imaginable data set. We’ve found solutions for businesses across a wide swath of industries and focuses, and we can do the same for you. Take a look at this article that gives practical advice on hiring a database consultant.

Businesses struggle with data collection and management because they don’t have the proper systems in place to deal with their data before they start collecting it. Either they don’t pay enough attention to their own needs, or they pay too much attention, getting bogged down trying to catalog and cross-reference needless amounts of unnecessary information.

You can escape this trap. JN Software has deep expertise in building and maintaining databases that work the way they are designed to and work every time. One of our friendly consultants would be happy to help you sort through your organizational choices and challenges. They’ll help design a system that properly stores, manages, and gives you access to the data you need when you need it. For more advice on starting your database project, check out our article here.

Let us help your business operate more efficiently. To see examples of some of the databases we’ve designed for our previous clients, scroll down to “Our Projects” here
Contact JN Software at 416-264-6247, or use our convenient contact form. Let us help you find the perfect database solution for your organization’s needs.

Interested in training instead? We offer training across Canada through JN Software. Or, if you’re located in Ottawa or Quebec, take a look at the courses we offer through CompuEase.
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