Educating database users

Data analysis
Microsoft Windows
SQL Server
Database administrators must always be prepared to handle users' database problems and concerns -- even if those users are quick to blame for every small thing that goes wrong and rarely praise when big things go right. It may be a lack of education; users just don't understand the work involved with managing and maintaining databases. Or it may be that they simply don't care. Now that a new year is approaching, I'd like to know what's on your wish list: What would you like to say to users who are quick to point fingers at IT? What knowledge would you like to pass on to bridge the gap with other departments in your company? How could users help make your day-to-day tasks and general troubleshooting assignments easier? E-mail me directly or post your response here. We'll include it (anonymously, if preferred) in a feature article on I look forward to hearing from you. Happy new year! Best regards, Robyn Lorusso Editor

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Hello Robyn,

Just to clarify, the finger pointing is not always directed at just database admins, but at all members of the IT group, helpdesk right up to the programmers. And when that single digit points my way? Well I remind those users that they are welcome to fix it themselves @#!*! Or at least that’s what I’d like to say.

In reality I personally don’t take the finger pointing to heart. Finger pointers are most often a certain breed of end user that often, shall we say,that has aquired a taste for their own toes? They usually throw a trantrum and end up starring at their own finger in the end.

For me I appreciate the uneducated end user as this person is what I refer to as job security! If we educated everyone to the point that they could solve problems without the aid of IT, who would need us? Being a Michiganian and watching the unemployment ranks grow almost daily, I for one like my job (and the paycheck that comes with it)!

Nick D.

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  • Solutions1
    Clearly, a critical step is to educate users regarding the value of high quality data and the need to make it fit for a widening range of purposes. People often are not aware that, for example, being inaccurate or being slow to create or update a receiving transaction or some master data table might in today's more integrated world have repercussions in a dozen different business contexts, some beyond the company's own boundaries. A corollary is that those who fund or manage application and database enhancements have a responsibility to be proactive in adapting database design and application logic to aid rather than hinder users in making data fit for new purposes as well as narrow stovepiped purposes.
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  • Dlevine
    Hi All, Boy does this question open up a can of worms! I think that the fingerpointing in IT's direction (a lot of the time) is sheer lack of communication, and lack of defined business processes. Really, technology is just another set of business tools for the users - and they are (thier bosses are) the ones who define the business rules and processes telling us how to design / implement / maintain our databases (and other tech resources). Users should not care about managing and maintinaing databases. They should care about managing and servicing customers, or whatever *thier* job is. Im my experience, when a user is angry and pointing fingers at IT, it is usually the result of them doing thier best to work out of bounds. This could be anything from not checking thier Excel spreadsheet, and trying to bulk load bad data - and then freaking out because they really should have had the customers order data ready much sooner (and it should be in the same format *every time*). Or they are submitting a query - despite any warnings - to show all order details for all customers over the course of the past year for a report due tomorrow(and what are you going to do with n-million records?!). Eck. So my wish is this. Department Managers and Directors... please manage and direct. IT Managers and Directors please make sure that you *communicate* with the other department managers and directors. If they don't "have time" - try to establish some other single point of contact for each business unit or department, and work with them. Often. Once your business processes, workflow, and whatever are defined,then everyone is on the same page. Document it. Share it. And don't become complacent with it. So how does this actually make its way to the users? Education and training. This does not have to be formal training (however environments free of distraction always work better). It could be a message board or wiki on your intranet. It could be a users group that meets once a month. It could include a strong initial training initiative for new employees (if you start off on the right foot, everything just comes a whole lot easier). All in all, while DBA's and Systems Administrators will probably be involved in these types of things - these are not something that we should have to initiate. And once you do have everyone on the same page - I think that you'll find troubleshooting is easier, beacuase the environment is more controlled. This leaves more time for managing systems, improving performance, increasing reliability, etc... Well, this is my two cents anyway. Best, David
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  • JeanWM
    >>What would you like to say to users who are quick to point fingers at IT? As database developer I put nifty little workarounds in the application. So when somebody is pointing fingers at the my developersteam, for some reason, we can show them (after a few yes it's you/no it's not me, it's your ***program) what they did, and when. After a few months, this point was down. Database department 1/user 0...still a lot to go.... >>What knowledge would you like to pass on to bridge the gap with other departments in your company? We are not here to annoy people, but to help, we are not here to play the slave for each and every problem that the user creates, we are human, it's our job and we love our job, so, show a little respect. >>How could users help make your day-to-day tasks and general troubleshooting assignments easier? Show at least basic courtesy, common courtesy to people who sometimes has to work all weekend, so others can work without problem on monday...and the rest of the week/month/year. Respectfully. JW
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  • Littlesam
    Being a Data Base Administrator, my "user" clientele are the application programmers, etc. I have found that the best education is to show them how to use the various online tools available to both DBAs and developers. One example is CA's DB2 Products online tool. I have also created word documents with screen prints showing the available screens of the tool to them and how they can query the data just as wasy as I can, of course with the proper RACF security for Read Only purposes. Once I have walked them through the document sitting by their side, they gain a better knowledge of what goes on and how best to ask questions when they arise, rather than to jump the gun and point the finger. Obviously, not all companies have online query tools. We also have Princeton Softech query tool which is more of an application developer tool. Coding SQL for use in SPFUI would help the users as well. If questions tend to repeat themselves, then setting up any type of query to hand over to the user for them to submit helps them to gain knowledge of the tools available to them. Knowledge goes a long way when the "users" know the overall picture. The more they know the less they point the finger, but ask the right question to get the right answer.
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  • Chippy088
    So what would I, personally, like to see make my job easier, 1) Valium for highly strung users, administered remotely, at the touch of a button to stop them interrupting every 2 minutes to ask "is it done yet?" 2) A recorded message that says "There, there it will be fine, our best engineer is assigned to the fault." for the times when you are upto you neck in phone calls from users all reporting the same problem, within in seconds of the fault occurring. 3) 3 times the staff we have now. So I can get a full 2 weeks holiday in the sun. 4) 48 weeks on holiday and 4 weeks working, instead of the other way round. (Again for the same reason as above, Murphy's law applies in both cases.) On a more serious note, yes I was joking before, I think section management could be more pro-active on how and when, to report the problem. 20 users, 20 phone calls, surely there is someway to notify the rest of the section that the fault has been reported and is being attended to. (Open office architecture, instead of lots of enclosed cubicles, tend to cause fewer phone calls to the help desk. The word gets passed faster.) We have an MS-Access intra-net database of FAQs for each application that we use. It is updated automatically when the help desk resolves any reported problem. The first question we ask a user is "Have you read the FAQs to see if your problem has already been delt with before?" (No prizes for guessing their immediate response.) No matter how professional the help desk, each users problem is earth shattering to them, on a ratio of the more inexperienced the user, the greater the magnitude of the problem. As we all know, tact and knowledge of the application(s) are necessary for a quick fix. Often user in-experience is the first problem to overcome, and is best rectified by training, training and more training. In response to the sentence, "even if those users are quick to blame for every small thing that goes wrong and rarely praise when big things go right." I think that old adage "no-one sees me when I am thirsty, but, they all notice me when I'm drunk" sums it up, but, that's the nature of our job. Things are getting better for us DAs, but we will always be the first in, and last out at the end of the day.
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  • Ursulus
    Database administration to many users is somewhat 'smoke and mirrors'. They have no real idea what goes on and so when things don't go as expected their insecurity tends to make their reaction somewhat over the top. It has been said but user training is all important but you need more than that. As a Database administrator I go to great lengths to get to know the users so that when something goes wrong I can actually appraoch them during or afterwards to explain in laymans termsa what is going on.. This gives them a level of understanding and thus in most cases calm. If someone reports a problem.. work with that person so that they think their input is important. They use and in some cases rely completely on the systems you support. In many cases after you start this kind of activity they will discover that many of their issues are not actual problems with the database systems and you'll end up getting less wasted calls. I like to get my users to a point where they can in some cases self diagnose or at least to a point where I get intelligible fault reports and not emotive ones. But at the end of the day it all boils down to time. I have found that making time for the users pays off but I know this tac doesn't work for a lot of Database Administrators who are propbably horrified at that level of user contact. It works for me! Malcolm
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