Why Your Company Needs a Database
DISCLAIMER: What follows is a fictionalized story about real business day
It was another Monday morning at Widgets Inc. and things were not good. Since
the economy took a nosedive company sales had dwindled and only partially come
back. Core clients have
stayed but only a few new companies have been
added as customers. Costs are going up, sales heading down, and tempers are
rising all around.
In the meantime, to cut costs, a few employees have been let go.
Rumor has it, though, third-generation Widgets Inc. company President Robert Hampton III is planning
another series of layoffs. This time, the fear is, the layoffs are going to be
Widgets Inc Vice President Maggie Smith is scared to death she's going to
lose her job. She figures her head is next on the chopping block along with a
number of other employees. She's been getting yelled at for months to
turn things around by Robert Hampton III. Between
the job getting worse by the day and her divorce a couple of years ago,
things seemed to Maggie to be on a constant downward spiral, with no end in
Maggie was walking down the hall on her way to get a cup of coffee.
Robert walked in front of her and said, "Meet me in my office now."
A moment later they were both in Robert's office.
At first, Robert just glared at Maggie. Then he finally said, "Why can't you get things turned around here?" He sat behind
his big chair, his eyes piercing her like needles.Then he started to tap his
fingers on the desk.
The tapping continued.
Maggie sheepishly looked across the desk at Robert. She tried to plan
how to answer with something smart, but nothing could come to her.
Robert just stared at her. He kept tapping that irritating tap.
Then Maggie blurted out, "I am working on it sir."
Robert just looked at her and glared. Then he said, "This company has
been around for 100 years and the amount and quality of information I have
to run it is about that old too. I can get instant weather and radar reports
from the Internet for free but I have no clue what's going on in my company
despite all the money I'm spending."
Maggie just nodded her head and listened intently.
Robert continued, "Then, I get customers complaining they've got no clue
what their order status is." Then Robert looks a little softer towards Maggie,
reaches his right hand out a little bit and said, "You know I can't help it but
I've got aunt Martha taking care of customer order updates. She's quite slow and
loses track of things. She's been here longer than me. What can I do? Dad wants
her here helping, doing something." He said as he raised up his hands in a
gesture of mock futility. "Anyhow, even if aunt Martha worked day and night she
couldn't keep up with the customers demands. They want 24-hour updates on the
orders." Robert laughed. "I can't afford to keep her around doing what she does
for eight hours a day, let alone be able to afford to pay somebody to be around
and answer customer questions the other 16 hours of the day. Like that could
ever be cost-effective."
Maggie tried to keep focused, listening to Robert. He could get quite
Robert went on, "Meanwhile, we've got bigger companies that are killing
us on price, speed, and volume. Then I've even got smaller companies beating up on us with quicker
service. It's real funny Maggie, " Robert said with a halfhearted chuckle, "We
can't even take care of the customers we have now, were sinking, and even if we
got more customers we'd probably run even slower then, getting the clients
we all ready have even
madder. The smaller companies are eating our lunch. The bigger companies are
simply blowing us away with speed and cost. And speaking of that, one of our best customers just called me and told
me that they're not working with us anymore. You know why?"
Maggie just looked across the desk, hoping it wasn't from something she had
done, she said, "No. I don't know. Why?"
Robert continued, "They said they're tired of waiting three days to get
their order filled. And they are telling me our small company competitors are filling their orders
in one day, max. One day max!" he said as he slammed his hand on his desk.
"They are tired of waiting on their orders, let alone any order updates, and say they're moving their business
to our competitors. I told them they've been customers of ours ever since my dad ran the
business. But he didn't care about that. Then do you know what he did next?"
Maggie said, "No sir I don't."
Robert continued, "He told me he never even knew my
dad. Then he just hung up on me. This is ridiculous. Fix this Maggie. Things
need to start getting a whole lot better here real quick. Or I'll have to make
some changes. Get it?" he said with a cruel smile.
"I do sir", Maggie said with a polite smile in return.
Robert waved his hand towards her and then to the door. "You can go now.
I have a golf match coming up."
Maggie thought to herself, What else is new. Another golf match for
the company owner and I'm left here trying to save his ship while it's sinking.
Robert looked at Maggie, her attention drifting off a little bit. Then
he said, "I'm golfing with someone I think you might remember. Bill Johnson over
at Acme Heat. You seemed to take a shine to him last year at our annual golf
Maggie tried to look disinterested as she blushed a little bit. Bill was
a real nice guy, sweet, kind, smart, a real ray of sunshine. Maggie thought to
herself how all that seemed to be sorely lacking around her right now.
Robert said, "Before I head out to that golf match I've got a few things take care of. I've got a
phone call to make first." He waived his right hand back towards her and fowards,
shushing her out the
Maggie got up and started to leave the room.
Then Robert blurted out, "I'm playing golf with our clients doing my
part to get this business better. It's about time you did better getting things
turned around here as well. I'll tell you one thing, I'm not going to see a
reduction in my pay or lifestyle any time soon, unlike you, unless things change
real quick around here."
"Yes sir", Maggie said as she headed out the door.
Maggie got up, left the room, and all the while thought to herself,
"What am I going to do?"
Maggie stepped out of Robert's office.
There were about a dozen people at their desks, all of them looking over
at Maggie. Almost as one, they all had their heads immediately move back down to
their work as if nothing had happened.
Maggie wondered to herself, "Where'd it all go wrong?" Since joining the
company she implemented a number of productivity enhancements. She got the
company to start having salespeople fax in their orders. Then later she improved
this to where they could e-mail their orders. The emails went to Aunt Martha and
she seemed to take her sweet time telling the shop floor what to do. Then, when
they got done, she'd take a while to filling out company paperwork
documenting the work had been done, then she would finally email back to the salespeople the work had
been completed. It was company policy to get all the paperwork documented before
the sales people were notified, or the paperwork never seemed to get done if it
was left up to
them. Back when the paperwork was left to the salespeople, it didn't get done
half the time and caused a real mess trying to figure what had all
happened on old orders. All this time waiting on paperwork and notifying the
sales people was getting a lot of clients real mad as they kept waiting, as
competitors got similar items produced, and delivered, in less time, costing
Widgets Inc more and more lost business.
Maggie thought to herself, the company can't afford two people to replace aunt
Martha. It would cost too much money. And then who would want to work all night,
anyhow? Maggie remembered when she was hired, sales orders were written down on
a piece of paper. The order would stay on someone's desk for a while until it
finally got taken to the shop floor to get produced. She thought to
herself, with the emails and Aunt Maggie, things aren't going much faster. Hiring
more people won't solve the problem either. Where's the money to pay these additional
mouths to feed going to come from when they are already looking at letting more
Maggie thought to herself, back to the days when she started
at the company, They were so backwards then. Are we like that all over again?
Maggie snapped out of her daydream and looked around.
They were looking at her. Again, like sharks sensing blood
the water, they knew she was weak and probably soon going to be let go. They put
their heads down back to work almost immediately.
Maggie walked over to her desk and sat down. She thought about her
meeting with Robert. She thought about how he said he could even get instant
weather updates from the Internet for free. Then he just went on yelling about
why he can't get he get anything like that from his company despite all the
money he is spending?
So, Maggie took a cue from Robert and got on the Internet. She found a
company called C Solutions. She called Chris Conley at C Solutions. She told
Chris about her
problems with paperwork items not getting done fast enough, the rest of the
story as well, and asked if there's a better way?
Chris Conley of C Solutions told her, "There's a lot of new technology
improvements that can help your employees work faster and better."
"Like what?" Maggie asked, her head kind of numb from all the tech buzz
Chris could tell she was getting a little confused so he switched things
up a bit to make what he was saying a bit more in English.
Chris replied, "It sounds like there's a lot of room for improvement
your company could make from handling orders with faxes and e-mails."
Maggie interjected, "Would it be expensive?"
Chris answered, "Well, it would take some money to get it going but from
what you've told me it sounds like you're all ready losing much more money in fleeing
customers and business than this system comes close to costing."
Maggie said, "OK. Well, then, what could you do to help us?"
Chris went on, "We could build a system for you that would allow
salespeople to enter their orders online. This information could then go
straight to the shop floor. Then your shop floor workers could then get the
order built real quick. And then when it's done they can put in an update on the
web order entry system that is completed. This can then update your internal
paperwork needs. When this happens, the salesperson can
get an e-mail update or a text update or both. And then.."
"Wow. Wait a minute," Maggie said.
Chris said, "Something wrong?"
Maggie replied, "No. I'm just try to get this all down in my notes."
smile started to grow across Maggie's face.
Chris answered, "No problem."
Maggie got to thinking about what Chris had just said. A new a web
order entry system could be a huge help. Maggie laughed to herself. It
sure would be a great improvement over aunt Martha. Instead of clients
waiting two or three days with orders, a bunch of that time had been waiting for
Martha to tell the shop floor about an order, get the paperwork done, and then her telling the
salesperson when it's ready. Let alone having the system available 24 hours a
day, and not needing to hire any more people for that. Wow. That would be a
great help. But how do I get that past Robert? Who knows?
Then Maggie said, "What else could you do to help my problems?" She felt
like she was getting three wishes from a magic genie.
Chris continued, "It seems like aunt Martha, and all the
internal paperwork, are big chokepoints in your
business. Also, if you were to go to the web-based system there could be pieces
put in place to where your customers wouldn't need to talk to Martha at all
Maggie's interested perked up a bit, "Really? Do tell more."
Chris said, "Additionally, we can build a way for your customers to
find out their order statuses at any time, day or night, all without needing to
contact aunt Martha at all."
Maggie said, "Cool".
Chris said, "Yeah."
Maggie started to feel better. Her shoulder started to feel a little
less stiff. The headache she had a few minutes earlier seem to have gone away.
Chris asked, "Do you have any questions?"
Maggie said, "What do we do to get started?"
Chris said, "The first thing we need to do is build a database for your
order information, parts, salespeople, and customers."
Maggie interjected, "Sorry. Not to sound dumb but, what's a database?"
Chris answered, "That's a good question. A database is a computer system
which allows you to keep any information you want saved in a secure manner. Once
you've got your information in a database there is a whole lot you can do with
it. Like all that stuff we talked about where salespeople can put in orders on
the web. That's helped a lot by putting the information in a database."
Maggie replied, "Oh."
Chris continued, "And then when the shop floor people get the
information about the new order. That information is being read from a database.
Then when the shop floor people update the system that the order is ready the
database is getting updated here, it's automatically taking care of your
internal paperwork, and then the salespeople are being notified
that it's ready. Also the whole system where customers can find out their
order status is reading from a database."
But then Maggie got a little worried and asked, "Well, if all this
information is online what's to keep someone from getting into it that isn't
supposed to see it?"
Chris said, "That's easy. You simply have usernames and passwords
assigned to your salespeople and your customers. Then you have the system only
allow people who are logged on to get in. Then we just add in there where
salespeople and customers are only allowed to see the information that they need
Maggie said, "That sounds simple and smart."
Chris said, "Yeah."
Maggie said, "What can we do about Robert knowing more about what's
going on around here? You know? With orders coming in, orders going out,
salespeople, the shop floor, all that?"
Chris said, "That's where the database comes in handy too. We can build
systems that let you, at the press of a button, be able to know the status of
all orders at that moment. Additionally, we can build reports that show you how
sales have been going up or down over a period of time. Or even show you that
same information for any individual client you might want to see what their
order history has been. If you like too, for bonus points, we can even have
these reports created at the very beginning of the day, at lunch time, or even
at the end of the day and have them automatically sent in an e-mail to Richard
or anyone else who may need to see the reports."
Maggie said, "Wow. How long would it take to get all this going?"
Chris said, "After we get the needed details we can get started on it.
Depending upon how complicated your needs are it could take anywhere from a few
days to a few weeks."
Maggie said, "Makes sense."
Chris said, "Also..."
Maggie's phone beeped to where she knew there was a call on the line.
Then she said to Chris, "Hold on a moment please." Then she tapped some buttons
on her phone and answered the other call, "Hello."
It was Robert on the phone, "My golf game isn't going worth a
darn I was just wondering if my company is going even worse. Do you have all
this figured out yet or what?"
Maggie smiled, paused a moment, and said, "Yes sir. I think I do."
Robert cried out, "Really?"
Maggie said, "Yeah I do."
Robert said, "Like what?"
Maggie said, "We've got some changes to be done in the way things are
being run around here."
Robert chuckled, and said, "Really?"
Maggie said, "Yeah. Let's talk about it in the morning and I'll tell you
all about it."
Robert smiled, and said, "Sorry. I'm already booked tomorrow morning
playing golf with another customer. We may be able to later? How about in a day
Maggie went for broke and said, "No. If you want things fixed around
here there are some actions that need to be done, the sooner the better. And I'm
tired of being blamed for all being wrong. Now I've found a better way that can
get things going right again. So we got to meet in the morning." Maggie softly
bit her lower lip.
Robert thought a moment. He pulled the phone away from his face and
just stared at it for a moment, thought a little bit. Then he put the phone back
to his ear that said, "Okay. You got a deal. This better be good. I was really
looking forward to golfing on that course."
Maggie let up from biting her lower lip, and said, "Good. I'll see you first thing in the morning,"
Maggie and Robert met the next morning. Maggie told Robert all she had
learned from talking with Chris Conley at C Solutions. She told Robert about about databases and how they could change the way
they do business. How they could have a system that would let salespeople enter
orders online. Then let the shop floor people get the orders near instantly. All
the while customers could see the status of the orders. These orders could then
be taken care of in hours and not days. The paperwork would get done by the
system, then the salepeople would be notified when all was ready on an order. All at the same time Robert could have
real-time updates on what's going on with every order, as well as past
orders saved into the system."
Maggie was getting worried though. She was telling all this and it
didn't seem to resonate very well with Robert. She was getting frustrated and
about had it.
Robert was just staring off to the side like he was half listening.
Maggie slapped the desk and said, "What's wrong with this plan? I'm
tired of all the stress and the mess this whole place is in and either I've got
to fix it or I am out of here. You know it and I know it. I'm tired of it.
This is all I've got and it's darned good. I know it. This is the kind of stuff
real businesses are doing right now and it's no big deal."
Maggie bit her lower lip hard.
Robert just looked at her and started to laugh.
Maggie said to him with a scowl on her face, "What is so funny?"
Robert just chuckled, and said, "Now I've got to figure out what to do
with aunt Martha."
They both laughed.
Widgets Inc. put in the changes. They added the new database system, as
well as the online system which allowed salespeople to enter their orders, the
shop floor people could now be notified instantly about what they needed to do,
paperwork to automatically get recorded, customers now had instant access to their order information, and Robert had
instant access to what was going on companywide at any time.
Orders started to get received and fulfilled faster than ever. Customers
liked the changes. They put in more orders. The online system handled the
increased order flow without a step missed. Unfortunately the floor
workers didn't fare so well. They became the chokepoint. More workers had to be
hired to keep up with the increased order demand. Soon, profits were up. The
company was getting new customers referred to it by their newly satisfied old
Then there was aunt Martha. What to do about her? Robert handled this
problem the old-fashioned way. He called her into his office and gave her a
promotion. Robert told her she only needed to come by on Mondays to make sure
things were running properly as the web-based system had it all covered in
To that, Martha said, "I've been tired of working so long and hard here for years. It's about time you figured out this business. I'll be glad to
get some rest for a change." Then she looked at Robert, and said, "How about if
I take the rest of the afternoon off?"
Robert said that would be just fine.
Martha walked out of Robert's office.
Robert then picked up his phone and called Maggie.
Maggie said, "Hello."
Robert asked, "What are you doing for lunch tomorrow?"
Maggie started to get a little squeamish. "Uh. I don't know. Why?"
Robert answered, "Well, I've been telling Bill Johnson over at Acme Heat
about what you have been doing around here lately. You know. Making things run
better, lowering stress, making us more money, those dynamite reports that tell
me what's going on at the company any time. Basically I have been telling Bill
how I have a lot less to yell at you about these days."
Robert clearly had Maggie's attention now. Maggie crush on
Bill started back at that company golf outing when they met last summer. Bill seemed so,
everything. Since Maggie's divorce two years earlier Bill had been one of the
few rays of light in her life and recent memory.
Robert said, "What I'm getting at is I'd like you to join
Bill and I for
lunch tomorrow and tell him a little bit about the stuff you've been doing
around here lately. I tried to tell him some of it but I think you'd probably do
a lot better job than I could."
Robert continued, "Don't get any funny ideas either. You're working here
at Widgets Inc. and I bet there are still a few good ideas left in you. So don't
go thinking about jumping ship or anything crazy or stupid like that. Please
just talk to the guy and explain to him what you've been doing around here. I
tell him this stuff then he asks about you, and for more details than I know the
answer to. Okay?"
Maggie thought to herself, I know what all the systems are
doing but I have no clue how they actually work. But she smiled to herself
again and remembered Chris Conley at C Solutions told her, "I'm always available
to answer questions on the system for you or anyone else that might
have an interest in learning more about it."
Maggie thought, surely Chris can answer any tech questions Bill
might have that I can't handle. And I can handle the rest. She smiled to
Robert barked out, "Well, can you make lunch tomorrow, or not?"
Maggie smiled and said, "I'll be there."