One of my longest running information technology dilemmas has to do with database fields. In the early days of databases, there was always the desire to solve everything just by adding another field…
If you were using a generic database program like Ashton Tate’s Dbase at the time, you could pretty easily add another field, but if you working with an application that was developed by professional developers it was a much tougher problem to address.
At the time, I was frustrated that the application didn’t just create another field for me. Where is the customer centric approach I wondered?
As I have gotten older, not necessarily wiser, I realize that there were some serious constraints on adding fields to a database just because the customer wanted them. I realized that programs had to worry about the computer’s resources.
And forget about sharing the database with multiple users. There was a brief period of time when Microsoft Access and FileMaker Pro were really popular…People would try to solve every business problem in one of those programs, it I digress.
Today, spreadsheets are often used like databases. They are often flat file lists that get clunky if they have too many columns. They are easy to setup and modify but have limited ability to scale. On the other end of the spectrum there are the monstrous online database tools which can be difficult to setup, but have taken care of the scaling program.
They are customizable to a point, but they are designed for everybody in your industry who is trying to do the same thing as you. You can adopt the recommended best practices or you can try to do do something on your own…
Either way, good luck to you. If you use their best practices, you are basically a clone of everyone. If you try blaze your own path, you end up with a system that doesn’t scale very well or breaks down too easily.
So what is an end user to do…The path of least resistance is to fall in line and use the templated best practices and just try to be really good at that (and most users aren’t at that). If they didn’t build in a field for what you are trying to do, you probably really don’t need it. You could try to set up custom fields, but good luck using those consistently.