I’m the type of person that once I get started on something all sense of order goes out the window. The mess starts off small and then next minute I’m surrounded by stacks of paper, a collection of pens, a coffee cup (or two) and an ocean of sticky notes.
Now this is usually the moment that my brain stops functioning - I can’t focus, and I can’t remember which piece of paper in front of me holds the answer that I’m looking for.
Everyone knows that a clean, well-organised workspace increases productivity and makes it easier to work more efficiently.
So, what if this ‘workspace’ was your school’s database, and over time it has accumulated inconsistent, duplicate, or incorrectly formatted data?
With Spring just around the corner, now is the perfect time to give your school’s database a well-deserved ‘Spring clean’. To get you started, here are our tips on how to clean up your school's database.
To keep or not to keep?
When cleaning out your wardrobe, it’s common practice to sort your clothes into two piles; keep and throw (or donate). Well, the same concept should apply when cleaning out your school’s database.
Decide what data you need, what you use, what you don’t use and what is just clogging up your database. There’s no point in keeping data that is no longer relevant. The most common example of this is unused or unreferenced data and custom fields that were once needed but have since been made redundant.
This is also a perfect time to check what services your software provider offers. Booking a database audit or what we at TASS call a “Health Check” is a great way to find out if you are recording and using your data effectively.
Keep things Consistent
Seemingly small data inconsistencies can be catastrophic to database management and can make reporting and using your data much more difficult down the track.
Common inconsistencies to watch out for include capitalisation, abbreviations, address formatting, missing fields, incomplete records, and naming conventions.
Schools rely on staff to enter data, making slight variations in data collection unavoidable. So, besides cleaning up your inconsistencies, consider creating a standardised data entry policy. This policy should be made available as a training and reference tool – providing staff with guidance on what they should and should not be doing, helping to avoid errors and reduce dataset inconsistencies in the future.
Burn the spreadsheets
Lone spreadsheets are the easiest way to mess up your database. While it is true that Excel is a familiar and easy-to-use tool, using it can actually be quite harmful.
The biggest risk that comes with using Excel is that the data is updated in a spreadsheet and not the school’s database – creating data disparity and distrust in the accuracy of data.
Other obvious impediments include the lack of collaboration, data sharing and transparency which can be particularly detrimental to communication.
Another sacrifice you make when relying on spreadsheets is data security. The lack of security features in Excel makes it much easier for sensitive data to get into the wrong hands. To reduce this risk and other vulnerabilities, it’s important for data to remain within one, central and secure system wherever possible.
Keep it up-to-date
While cleaning out your database it is important to make sure everything is also up-to-date and accurate. If you haven’t refreshed your database in some time, consider asking parents to update their addresses, contact and other details such as occupations.
Keep things simple by using online forms to capture relevant data and leave paper-based forms in the past where they belong. Having someone interpret and enter handwritten forms into a database is a recipe for disaster, or rather misread and incorrect data.
Want advice on accurate address collection? Check out our Top Five Address Collection Tips.
Consolidate where possible
Another area that is susceptible to clutter is the number of software systems that make up your school’s technology stack, or ecosystem.
The broader and more extensive that your stack grows, the more databases you have that need to be maintained and connected – more often than not, creating a bit of a Frankenstein.
An abundance of individual software systems makes integrations and reporting difficult (not to mention increase the workload for your staff).
Add a review of your software stack to your Spring clean list, and consider what functionality you need and don’t need, use and don’t use.
When reviewing what you already have, make sure you understand what your software provider can support and integrate with.
Keep things neat
The key to long-term database management is consistent tidying - it is much easier to maintain a clean database than it is to clean up a messy one.
Don’t let issues pile up and ensure any new data being entered is correctly formatted.
We recommend scheduling a clean every six months – review your data, find gaps and inconsistencies, and then address these with your staff. It is important that your staff understand what is and isn’t working so that they are aware of it in their day-to-day operations.
No matter what policy you have in place, it’s difficult to prevent all bad data from finding its way into your database; So having a proper ‘Decluttering Procedure’ is the best way to stop things from getting out of hand.