I have seen the term online database software more lately. What is it and why should you care? First, what is a database? A database is simply an organized system of related information. It could be a system of related information about health records, or car registrations, or in the case of project management perhaps resources, projects, or tasks. In many ways, the project management software tool that you use can be considered a database. Even a filing cabinet could be considered a database - an organized system of related information.
Online database software refers to an actual software tool that is used to organization your related information into a system. "Online" in many people's minds also refers to something accessible via the Internet, but I would broaden this to any software tool available to lots of people. An online project management software system is really online database software. It just happens to be organizing project-related information and providing tools to manage project-related information. So in some respects, if you have an online project management system, you already have online database software.
However, I believe that the term refers to a broader scope than that. I believe it refers to the ability to manage any type of related information. In other words, many tools limit you to manage only the information that they are already programmed to manage. You cannot manage any information outside of that. You would have to use a different tool.
Why is this important and why should you care? Because information is very important today. Information is scattered around everywhere - in filing cabinets, in documents on people's own computers or network drives, in emails, in spreadsheets. Decisions cannot be made with supporting information because it is too hard to aggregate and get the information. People spend a lot of time trying to find information. Problems cannot be identified because no one can see the big picture. In other words, we have all this information but not in an organized, useful system. And information that is useful is a competitive advantage.
Online database software is important because you don't know what information you will need to manage. It is constantly changing as your organization and process evolves. Time and again I have seen organizations mature and have expanded needs to manage more and more information efficiently. If you have the capability of an online database system, you have the flexibility to manage any information that you need to now or in the future.
Some of these software systems are separate tools. Some project management software systems (such as EnterPlicity) have online database capability built into them. The point is that whatever tool you are using, you want to ensure that you have the capability of managing a wide-variety of data.
What does this look like in reality? Here is an example.
One of our clients started off simply wanting to manage projects, tasks, and their status. That's it. That's great and a good starting point. Well, guess what? As organizations mature in their project management practices they realize there are some pieces of low hanging fruit that will allow them to take additional steps. This particular client wanted to track internal requests for work. They currently did this but with an outdated system. They wanted to do it in one system because it was related to project work and they didn't want the cost of maintaining the extra, older system. They also wanted to match very closely the existing process because the process itself was working. That means that they had very specific data elements that they needed to duplicate. This was not something that they envisioned in the beginning.
With online database software capabilities, it made it easy for them to do something like this. They simply created the database elements they needed to track the information that they currently track. That is the value of online database software - the ability to maintain flexibility to meet any sort of data tracking need in the future.
The point? Whatever tool you use / choose, don't get caught down the road with being limited in your data tracking capabilities. Be sure you maintain that flexibility because as you mature, you will need it down the road.