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Vendors' documentation of their databases

Our company over the years, has purchased dozens of applications that generally have SQL Server back ends. My job is to report off those databases (or their OLAP counterparts). Some databases are logically structured, reasonably well documented (with ER diagrams, schemata and so on); more than half are not. The project management involved in the introduction of new applications here NEVER considers the need to actually get the data back out. "The report writers will work that out for themselves" is the attitude. So we waste hours, days, weeks deciphering undocumented databases. Ultimately we're wasting company money. My question is this: Is this situation a failure of our local project management, or is it normal to expect no doco? Is it unthinkable to include a clause in a contract that obliges a vendor to document their database and keep it up to date? If they don't want to document, fine. They can sell their crappy product to someone else. What are your expectations when a vendor wants to sell you their product? I'm starting to think that any vendor who says "Sorry, we don't do schema" has something to hide, and it's not intellectual property. It's more likely to be the lack thereof.

No right answer, so the most upvoted after a week will get selected.
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asked Nov 14 '11 at 08:11 PM in Default

dataminor gravatar image

dataminor
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The right answer is: get a different job. You need a change, your input/effort is not appreciated. The next product upgrade will break your reports and mgmt will wonder why your numbers are not correct. Get out now, unless you have a huge retirement plan set up there, You will thank me. Peace and good luck.
Nov 14 '11 at 09:44 PM Scot Hauder
@Scot: I take your point, but I don't want to walk out on something I've just walked in on! The disaster was well underway before I got here. Funny you should say "the next product upgrade will break your reports". That's happened twice in the last six months from two different vendors! God knows how many reports are spitting out the wrong answers undetectably!
Nov 15 '11 at 03:05 AM dataminor
Sounded like you had been there for years, but looks like they brought you in to clean up the mess--I've been there. Even MicroSoft's dbs (CRM, GP etc) are quite cryptic. Good luck
Nov 15 '11 at 09:31 AM Scot Hauder
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3 answers: sort voted first
I think what @dataminor is getting at, is how widespread is the problem of vendors selling software that appears to tick all the boxes when it comes to data input and day to day use, but fails miserably when it comes to getting data out of the database (because of lack of documentation). I think it's more widespread than it should be, but I don't blame the vendors necessarily. I blame the philosophy of organisations engaging "project managers" who might know the business but don't have a clue about databases, to investigate and roll out new software. I've found that if the BI people are able to "get in on the ground floor" they can get traction on what is reasonable to expect the vendor to deliver. Vendors waiting expectantly for the signature on a contract are far more interested in your welfare than those who have already cashed the cheque.
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answered Nov 15 '11 at 02:52 AM

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GPO
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I guess the supplementary question is "If you work for a vendor who does devote resources to documenting the database for the client, don't you find it galling when second rate products are sold over yours, using smoke and mirrors, because the "project managers" are too inexperienced to tell the wheat from the chaff?
Nov 15 '11 at 03:12 AM dataminor
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From what I've seen over the years from vendors starting with Microsoft and ending with the smallest 3rd party imaginable, is that most, if not all, databases are undocumented or inadequately documented. I've spent tons of time figuring out how to query SCOM databases because the structures supplied by Microsoft are completely inadequate. It's not a question of your project managers being bad at their jobs. They're just dealing with the fact that most databases are not documented appropriately.

Then you get into databases like the one in Microsoft Dynamics CRM which doesn't have documentation OR even referential integrity. No RI makes it practically impossible to discover which data comes from where.

In short, there is no answer except suffering until there is some sort of paradigm switch in how vendors behave. Personally, I'm not holding my breath waiting for that one.
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answered Nov 15 '11 at 10:14 AM

Grant Fritchey gravatar image

Grant Fritchey ♦♦
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for me it looks like they have not enough capable resource to handle and they even can't manage, even not looks if they have something documneted here..
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answered Nov 14 '11 at 08:55 PM

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asked: Nov 14 '11 at 08:11 PM

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Last Updated: Nov 14 '11 at 08:11 PM