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A Single Database, or Multiple Databases for a Global Company? 02/09/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in Database.
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A Global Information System (GIS) can allow a company to have a single source for data. Multinational companies have the opportunity to have one database that can be used for all agents in every country around the world. This database could handle all transactions relating to a single application. Borders become blurred when using technology to connect disparate locations of a single company.

The single database model can enforce a unified process across the entire company. Using one database for the entire company can provide measurements and reports that are valid for every department. Reports can be compared between countries because data can be consistent across business units around the world.

Any company that does business in multiple countries could use a GIS. A logistics system would track all products in every country. Warehouses would connect to the same database to query and enter inventory quantities. Availability of parts could be determined not just be warehouses in a single country, but by the closest location.

A CRM application would provide complete break-fix reports for products. Every country would report on problems with a product. A company could easily determine how to proactively improve their products for every country out of one database. Having a single source of data allows the company to synchronize their presentation to their customers.

Why use a global database?

A global database is needed to standardize data from around the world. A Global Information System (GIS) can allow a company to create reports for all countries and regions that can be compared against each other. A single instance of a database could be an amazing resource for understanding the position of a company.

In the CRM world, there are so many different processes that one could not even attempt to catalogue them, much less count them. Whether that process is good or bad, it should be very similar no matter which country a customer is calling from. An English speaking user should get the same process results as a German speaking customer. The data that is collected in Japan should be very similar to data collected in Canada.

Why not?
Creating a single instance of a database can be a daunting task. It requires that users from disparate locations have equal access to the computers. It means that all users must have some form of understanding of a language that is agreed upon. Users will have to compromise on customizations. There must be some fields that have to be in a common language.

All affected divisions of a company would have to agree on the front end software allowing the users to have a single view of their data. Managers wanting improvements would have to schedule their customizations in cooperation with managers around the world. Processes would have to be similar in order to enter the correct data into the database.

The servers that deliver the database would have to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because of differing schedules of daytime and night, there are always offices who need live access to their data. Bringing the system down for planned maintenance becomes a coordination effort of massive proportions.

A single database would most likely have a single set of servers, meaning one location. Connecting to those servers becomes slower based on numerous factors. The network needs to be robust and fast. The number of users could slow down a system that isn’t scaled correctly.

Maintenance must be handled by a group of people who are not only technically efficient, but able to communicate in any language. Problem calls would come from any country in every language. The company must have a way to handle any call about problems with the database. Internal support is a critical factor in getting everyone to keep using a single database.

If technical people are using a shared database, they will inevitably find a need to create their own solutions. They will create a personal database on their own computer. They could create a small database that is shared with their group. They might even come up with a workaround to highjack the existing database and load it with their own information. Keeping a single instance of a database requires that every be convinced it is the correct solution. Managers must make sure that their groups follow the rules covering the global database.

If a company has the need for a single source of data, they will need to determine how to use a single database. There are many ways to come up with an answer to that problem. The trick is finding a way that accomplishes the same functionality with a sustainable return on investment along with a system that is usable and supportable over the long term.

Currently many global companies have separate databases for their business units that report differently. So a financial office in Russia would connect to a different database than the financial office in Boston. The customer facing agent in Japan would use a different database than the agent in Switzerland. The reporting group for finance might use a different database than the logistics group.

Different databases allow a company to find the best of breed application for any geographic area. This probably works great for individuals and small groups, but has problems when reporting is needed at the top. Reports must be created by merging all of the different data together. This requires very technical skills and a lot of time to do properly.

The data warehouse is another solution that is popular. The warehouse will normalize all needed from any number of different systems. This works well if the company has the money and resources to support that environment. Of course, what they are doing is creating a single source of data not unlike the single global database. Data warehouses can be expensive and difficult to maintain. They certainly have their value when done correctly, but starting with a single global database might be a better answer.

This is just my 2 cents; I’d love to hear your opinion.
Remember, it’s a global world out there, and technology makes it happen