5.12.1: What is a Database?
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A database is a collection of related data that is organized so that it can be easily access, managed and updated. Databases can store details about people, products, orders, or anything else. Data can be defined as facts and statistics about people, objects, events and ideas. Organizations interpret, process and analyze data to turn the data into useful information. This information is used to make better decision-making.
In the past, many databases were paper-based. Paper records were stored in files within file cabinets. File cabinets still exist today, in large part due to the fears associated with the insecurity of electronic records being compromised. The individual documents (records) are categorized into different folders (tables) to streamline user access. However, this process is labor-intensive, susceptible to errors, and an office eyesore!
Databases are used for two major purposes: for processing transactions and analytical research. Transactional databases track daily operations. This data can be extracted into other software programs for further manipulation, summation and classification. This allows users to perform analytical research and prepare reports to help create strategic information.
Computerized databases organize data into rows, columns and tables, and is indexed to make it easier to find things quickly. Data gets updated, expanded and deleted as new data is added. Automated processes quickly manipulate the data, and data accuracy is enhanced through automated rules. The advancements in database software technologies have contributed to the Information Age that currently exists. The growth of the filing cabinet market cannot compare to the growth of electronic data contained in private and public networks, and web sites throughout the Internet!
While a spreadsheet can function as a database, with it’s utilization of columns and rows, the flat-file structure creates redundancies and inconsistencies which limit the ability to find and understand the data. In contrast, a relational database uses a tabular structure so that data can be easily reorganized and accessed in a number of different ways. Relational databases are made up of a set of tables with data that fits into predefined categories (fields). Each table has at least one data category (field) in a column, and each row has a certain data instance for the categories (fields) which are defined in the columns.
Microsoft’s relational database software program available in Office 365 is called Access. Access only functions with Windows operating systems (not available on a Mac O/S), and is not available in all Office versions. Access is a tool to organize, store, and manipulate data, in order to report on the data stored in tables. The power of a database comes from the ability to link tables together to provide data processing efficiencies for large sets of data. Access’ integration with the other Microsoft Office programs makes it a very popular and economical relational database solution.