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10:40 p.m. - March 22, 2006
The Plane Lands, But Reality Hit Sooner
Well, itís all over. And I hope I didnít embarrass myself.

Actually, I donít think I did, because Nancy (who is on my track team) and P. Todd (also on the track team) teased me a bit for missing the morning roundtable. Ah, well.

Nancy is even on Myspace. Wow. I probably should search for all of my peeps. BTW, if you want it, hereís my profile on that heroin of a web site. Friend me, friend me, make me write bad checks.

I know I DID have a good time. Not in a Spinal Tap ďHave a good time ALL of the timeĒ way, but I had fun. I danced, I played blackjack, and I had some wine. But I probably should have eaten something. Ah well, thatíll learn me.

But I think I needed to get out and have fun. We got a lot of work done at our track team meeting, and really planned out a great conference for next year. Yes, thatís right. Weíre already planning the 2007 User Group, when the 2006 User Group isnít even over.

It was a great conference, especially on Tuesday. My presentation was given on Monday, to I think rave reviews and I was able to learn and absorb a lot of things on Tuesday.

And what I absorbed is going to create a lot of work for me.

Now, normally, Iím not one to be panicky and alarmist about work. I get my work done (yes, believe it or not) and I do it with ruthless efficiency. Well, at least I convince myself that I do.

But this is going to take some work.

OK, for those of you not interested in data-geek wonkdom, the following part of this essay may not be for you.

The database product we use is robust, large, massive. Of course, when you are dealing with capturing all of the data about graduates of a college, plus corporations, foundations, parents, and others who donate to the college, it has to be robust.

The file structure is complex. Itís taken me a long time to be comfortable in writing some simple reports using a reporting tool. I have someone who works for me whose job is basically to create and write reports. I sit in my office and dream them up.

The database does its job in holding the data. It IS difficult to report out of yes, and the canned reports the software company have given us just donít do the job. Mainly because every institution is different and uses their information in different ways. Iím sure freshhell uses her stuff differently at her institution than I do at mine.

But that being said, itís a good product, albeit imposing. It takes a while to learn it and longer to be comfortable with it. Many in our office, the hard working support staff, have mastered it and are quite comfortable with it. Others are not, but they donít use it that much.

Me, I live in it, when Iím not playing on the internet, so Iím very comfortable.

And that comfort is being yanked out from under us.

Of course, we WANTED that change. Be careful what you wish for.

The software company has another product that runs all of the other functions of the school, from admissions, to registration, to billing, to payroll, etc. Of course, we share a LOT of the same records, because students become alumni and parents are common between us, and many of the vendors to the college also give to the college.

But they were separate databases, and we always thought that it was a bit silly.

Well, finally, they are going to combine the databases.

Not really combine Ė they are going to make the Advancement product part of the other database that manages the rest of the schoolís functions. So we will be under one roof.

We are going to have to transfer our data and histories and all of our information into the other database.

And thatís when the fear and loathing kicks in.

For one, there is a LOT of data that needs to be cleaned up. We know that people reside in each database with separate, distinct, ID numbers. The personís ID number is the ONE thing that allows you to pull almost all of the information out about a person. And if they are different, well, you got trouble.

Second, thereís data in our system that is faulty. Itís no oneís fault, but dealing with over 60,000 records with data ranging from giving records, prospect information, addresses, employment, and academic achievements, over the past 13 years does not ensure that every piece of data isnít flawed, or stored in the wrong place.

Third, thereís a question on who will OWN the data. Who will make the address corrections on current parents, or parents, or alumni that still owe money to the college? Who will maintain the mail rules, which dictate whether we can actually mail or otherwise contact someone, or not.

Fourth, all of our custom reports wonít translate over. We have spent a lot of time in developing a suite of reports that we use on a regular basis (regular being daily to yearly), and because we are moving to basically a new database with a new file structure, they wonít work. All of them will need to be assessed and re-written.

Lastly, because of the way the data is stored currently, we have to use things called either i-descriptors, virtual fields, or computed columns (take your pick) to report on data that is stored in two separate files for the same person. (Like I said, very complicated). For instance, we store our giving information in a file called TX.ARCHIVE and our basic information about an alumnus in a file called PERSON. Sometimes you want the data in both files on the same report, and in order to get that you have to write an i-descriptor that looks for a common key between the files and uses that key to pull the data you need over, so then you can write the report.

(Gack, thatís way TMI, and my data wonk friends who use the product will also complain that Iíve oversimplified it - but hey).

Those i-descriptors, of which there are THOUSANDS in our files, will not work. They will all need to be re-written.

To some, it doesnít seem like thereís a panic, because the actual product wonít be in general delivery until April 2007, and then thereís a matter of us actually installing the product and getting it up and running and then training everyone on the new software. I will probably be spending a week or so in training, along with my normal conference schedules, in 2007.

But we need to get ready now. We need to meet toot sweet about the files, the messy data, who owns what data, and the like.

Because itís going to take a long time to actually get the work done in cleaning up the data, and learning how to write the reports so when we do turn on the switch of the new software, we have few if no interruptions in normal business operations.

So thatís my big challenge coming up. There will be long hours, Iím sure. There will be times where I wake up at 2:00 AM and wonder if I missed something, or wake up with a new idea on how to make it all work out.

At least itís job security. And Iím not complaining about that.

 

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