Identifying Useful Information in Software

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Identifying Useful Information
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What makes information useful to a database designer In short, it s anything and everything that tells you about data, how data relates to other data, or how data is used This may sound a little oversimplified, but it is often overlooked You need to consider any piece of data that could end up in the database This means that you can leave no stone unturned Also, you may end up with additional requirements from application developers, or even your own requirements, such as those that will ensure referential integrity These too are important pieces of information that you will receive Here are examples of useful information you may receive:
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Interpreting Requirements
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Interview descriptions of processes Diagrams of current systems or databases Notes taken during observation sessions Lists that describe data that is required to meet a regulation Business reports Number estimates, such as sales per day or shipments per hour Use case diagrams
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This list certainly isn t exhaustive, but it gives you a good idea of what to look for in the requirements Keep in mind that some information that you need to keep may not directly affect the database design, but instead will be useful for the database implementation For example, you need information about data usage, such as how many orders the company handles per day, or how many customers the company has This type of information probably won t influence your design, but it will greatly affect how you pick indexes and plan for data storage Also, be on the lookout for irrelevant information; for example, some information gathered during user interviews doesn t offer any real value Not all users provide helpful details when they are asked To illustrate this point, here is a funny anecdote courtesy of one of our tech editors While working on redesigning an application for a small college, he kept asking, How long can a name be The reply he received was, An address label is four inches wide This answer is not wrong, of course, but it s not very useful Be very clear with your customers, and guide them toward the answer you need; in this case, ask them how many letters a name can have One last note: Keep your eyes open for conflicting data If you ask three people about the ordering process and you get three different answers, you may have stumbled upon a process that users do not fully understand When this happens, you may need to sit down with the users, their supervisors, or even upper management and have them decide how the process should work
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Identifying Superfluous Information
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Superfluous information is, by definition, extra or redundant information We won t go as far as to call it useless, because it may be useful to other groups or during other phases of design Here, you are looking for anything that doesn t help to further define the data requirements Anything that has nothing to do with data, its usage, or relationships can probably be ig-
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Determining Model Requirements
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nored Don t destroy this data, but set it aside and do not use it as one of your main sources of information Here are a few examples of superfluous information you may receive from your customers:
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Application usage reports Employee staffing numbers Diagrams of office layout Company history Organization charts
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Much of this type of data may help you in your endeavors, but it isn t really linked to data However, some of these items may provide you with information you will need when implementing the database For example, an org chart may be handy when you re figuring out security Remember that the focus here is to find the data you need in order to design the database model Also, keep in mind that requirements gathering is an iterative process, so don t be afraid to go back to users for clarification A piece of information that seems to be useless could prove to be invaluable with a little more detail
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