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DB for (very IT challenged) beginners

Hello to everyone,

I rsearched in this forum but could not find pertinent advice... which is the best DB for our needs?

I am a very IT challenged (ignorant) partner who has been tasked with the responsibility to chose and create a DB for a start up physical commodities trading company, based in London but with partners physically located across 4 continents.

After 2 years of growth we now feel the need to create a database to share a hundreds of documents and information (buyers, sellers, brokers, procedures, commodities, specifications, transaction details, copies of contracts, bank compliance documents, invoices, offers, requests, etc.) amongst all 14 partners, located across the world.

Important considerations for our choice:

  1. Ease of creation and use. Simple UI (some partners are 60 years old)
  2. Available online/worldwide
  3. Cheap (*)
  4. Migration file format for a, possible, future upgrade to a better platform
    (*) MySQL, at 2,000USD/year is out of reach, for now.

We also seek a second tool/platform where partners (and clients, if case requires) could (a) meet, virtually, and create/collaborate on transactions and (b) communicate as if we were in a physical office.

Can anyone, please, offer any advice? I thank you in advamce for your expertise and time. Please keep the language very basic without jargon and technical terminology as I don't even know what SQL is...


My recommendation is to not mess around if the company is to survive not only from a database aspect but from a security aspect and a "BCP" (Business Continuity Plan), which is also known as a "Disaster Recovery Plan". You get a ton of good information and a ton of bad information by asking such questions on a forum and they'll usually be written in such a fashion that you won't actually be able to tell.

If you want the company to survive, find a good consultant or 3rd party provider that can set you up correctly and will take the time to document and explain, as well.

I build these sort of solutions, our approach is to build an Intranet which connects to all the various databases within the company and provides a single, consistent, user interface. The Accounts folk (for example) still use the Accounts System, but everyone else in the company - basically "naive Accounts-system users", does not have to learn how to use the accounts system. Same for all the other systems within the organisation. The "Intranet" becomes the primary Enquiry tool for all the systems within the company, and where necessary (e.g. the Accounts system does not provide storage for something you need to record about a Client) additional "top-up data" can be stored in the Intranet. The Intranet also provides Workflow and Dataflow processes to streamline the way that the company interacts with the various sytems.

I would also commend a Document Management System (DMS) to you. If you don't have much money then buy whatever you can afford, for now. At the least you will have all your documents in the Doc Management system, from the get-go, with suitable Properties for each one - and they will all be searchable. You can upgrade to something bigger later on - all your existing documents and, most importantly, all their properties will be able to be ported to the new system.

We use Autonomy - the first choice for Legal profession - its big, and expensive. It is tightly integrated into our Email, Document-processing and so on - so "Save" basically does straight into the DMS, associated with a Matter ID, and carries all the Properties about Client / Matter / Staff and so on. We can also "publish" a set of documents in a secure manner - e.g. for Due Diligence.

Skype. We use Skype for Business, but you might get away with regular Skype - not sure what the Desktop-sharing capability of that is. "Skype for Business" is disappointing poorly complex - I'm really surprised at how poor some of the features are, as they are much more intuitive and better presented in the freebie regular-Skype :frowning: so it "Personal Skype" does all you want I wouldn't bother to choose the Business version.

We use high quality headsets - the sort used in call centres - and, personally, I find it much less tiring than using a phone - plus I have both hands free, can share a desktop / document, and so on. I buy the headsets (new) off eBay when they come up ... eBay price is around $5-$10 ...

Most MySQL applications I've seen choose it because it is "free" (which I very much doubt is the case for the commercial APPs that I stumble over). I'm sure it is not universal, but in ALL the MySQL Applications we have come across that has also meant that the Application is not robust - e.g. no Transaction logging, and so on. So beware that you may be buying "cheap" in all the senses of the word.

Can't help you there.

Our Intranet solutions are usually into high 5-figures by the time everything is built, certainly in the low 5-figures even for the basics. Consultancy alone, spec-ing the system and understanding exactly what you want to do, could be as much as 5 days ...

Its "a" programming language used to communicate with Databases. As such you don't need to know anything about that, except that a Database that supports SQL is "open" and that (usually! but check to be sure) means that data can be extracted using reasonable industry-standard language So if, for example, you want some additional reports written, or in a few years' time you want to move to something else, then chances are extremely high that 100% of the data can be accessed - even if the original company that provided it is no longer around.

Thank you. Your advice is very valuable and, probably, we should follow it.

At the moment we are only a startup and investments are difficult so we were exploring the possibility of setting up something only temporary. In my OP I explain that we want to upgrade, as soon as we have finances, and for this reason we seek a solution that stores data in a standard format that can be upgraded, in future, to different softwares.

I appreciate the insight. Thank you for the advice.

Thank you for your very useful and extensive post. I appreciated your time.

As I mentioned in my OP we are a start up without funds to invest, at this moment, so we seek something temporary to make experience and then later, we will migrate/upgrade after appropriate and professional consulting.

Could you point me towards a free mySQL? I found this and it is not free: https://www.mysql.com/products/

I find the document management system very interesting but it might be too expensive for us. I guess that we could share the important documents by uploading them in our database under the relevant record, as I mentioned in the OP.

Again, thank you if you could point me towards free DB for these needs.

Maybe its changed, sorry about that. I have only limited knowledge of MySQL (this being a MS SQL Server forum that will probably be true of many.most other folk here too)

Generally speaking I would not store large documents / images IN the database. The document management systems I have used store the physical documents in a filesystem, and then store both the "location" of that document, and all the Properties about that document (author, client, matter ID, keywords, dates, etc.) IN the database, to facilitate searching, along with some sort of free-word indexing of the content of the document. This needs to work for all types of documents you use - so not just Word and Excel (say) but also PDF, specialist documents such as Technical Drawings, and so on.

P.S. Please don't assume you can just make a database. For sure you could :slight_smile: but as a partner your time would be much better spent as a Fee Earner, and then paying a professional to supply the software . A Self-build will have all the problems associated with someone learning how to build such systems, and without experience there are risks from both loss of data and time lost (by all users) to lack of experience causing both bugs and also not having the skills to build a robust system for making it easy / quick to diagnose and fix problems.

Thank you for your useful and valuable advice. I appreciated it very much.