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Low Hanging Fruit

By Geoff Norman,

I'm sure you're all aware of the now slightly hackneyed sound bite "harvesting low hanging fruit", used to describe the small scale quick implementations hanging around a business that collectively can bring just as many business benefits as the high profile, large scale and expensive projects we often hear about, but at a fraction of the cost. It has also been suggested that it's only sensible business strategy to go beyond just recognising the good value of these small scale projects, and to actively cultivate an environment which made it as easy as possible to both spot and deliver them.

So why bring this up now? After all, it's hardly news. The answer is continued tunnel vision. Whenever the question is raised on this or any similar web site of what constitutes a DBA's role, answers come thick and fast on subjects like database backup/recovery, database monitoring, database tuning - in fact, anything focussing on the database. Whilst I wouldn't deny the importance of these skills, my opinion is that few people are better placed in the business than the DBA to spot where information needed in area A is already stored in area B, and to integrate the two.

However, as DBAs, we can't play join the dots unless we adapt our focus slightly; away from the database and towards business needs. The database is just a tool, and it's the efficient business that pays the bills. I'm not advocating neglecting your databases, of course, but I do recommend looking more closely at what they do rather than just how well they do it. Real world examples? OK, here are a few, and I'll lay down a challenge for you to add others to the discussion thread:

  • Employee information. HR maintain personal details in a database. Do changes to those details (creation, amendment, termination dates etc.) trigger creation and amendments to network logins? Do those changes propagate out automatically to other application accounts? Even something as simple as a last name change after a wedding ties up a lot of a network analyst's time if they've got to change the accounts manually. Time to implement depends on how much automation you want, but should be negligible when compared with the time savings.
  • Emailed reports. How many regularly emailed reports, whether manual or automated, are actually sent simply so a recipient can manually update a system for which they're responsible? Could a little integration remove the need for both the report and the manual updating altogether? And if you don't know who's receiving these emailed reports, I'll bet your Email Admin could tell you.
  • Corporate Communication. Hardly rocket science, but if someone's correct phone number is difficult to find, communication is hindered. Do you have an online phone directory? Does it get its data directly from your phone exchange, or a data source that does? Do your email signatures calculate their details from the same place? How about any other places where the same phone numbers are stored? Such a simple change, but the effect on efficiency is huge.

One final thought; if you're fixing a problem, it's likely you'll spot several other oddities or inefficiencies that fall just outside your immediate scope. Even if they're not things you can resolve yourself (or, at least, resolve immediately), spend a moment or two thinking about a potential solution or two and let some people know. Sometimes your suggestions will be dismissed, but when they aren't, your company will benefit from another harvesting of low hanging fruit.

Welcome to the world of Corporate Scrumping.

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