Sometimes I take for granted that I’m a complete technophile and have had my fingers immersed in technology since I was a child. I go around frequently speaking with people and companies about technology including web portals, social media and databases, but the other day when someone asked me the simple question, “What exactly is a Database?” it hit me that not everyone is a super nerd (thankfully) like me. This simple question reminded me that I have to be more conscious about ensuring that I provide the additional detail regarding certain technologies.

My answer to this question of “What is a Database?” was to say that a database is simply an organized structure of data stored in a computer system and typically enabled for easy retrieval of that data.  For those of you who used to frequent the school library before computers and online search were present, remember that old physical Card Catalog, with the drawers of cards, where you used to go to look up the location of a book?

Well that was, in it’s simplest non-digital form, effectively a database of information.  The filing cabinet you have at home is basically a database.  You’ve taken papers, categorized them and then placed them into a physical structure for easy location and retrieval.  The difference in the digital form of a database is that the data is stored on a computer system, the database is managed by software called a database management system, i.e. Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, or DB2 for example, and the programmers of the database management software have designed the software to store the data in a very efficient manner on the physical disk of the computer system.  Databases can be developed to contain any type of information, from simple name and address information about customers of a particular business to purchase history, images, audio files, or more complex information such catalogs of scientific research or even genetic sequencing information as part of the human genome project.

Database technology was introduced back in the 1960’s and now over 50 years later, nearly every computerized system we use today, including something as simple as a mobile phone, is powered by some sort of database on the back end that organizes and stores information for us.  Databases are used in every industry including retail, automotive, finance, banking, healthcare and even in the hospitality industry in hotels and restaurants.

Most relevant to the businesses I tend to speak too, is the application of a database as it pertains to marketing.  In the marketing world, businesses typically use databases to support their marketing efforts.  A Marketing Database is a structured set of information that is typically comprised of customer data, prospect data, purchase history, contact preferences and any combination of additional data necessary to support the marketing efforts of a business.  We often refer to a Customer Database or a Customer Marketing Database as one that contains all the relevant information about customers.

In turn, a Prospect Database or a Prospect Marketing Database contains all relevant information about individuals of whom a business would like to focus energy on and turn into customers. The marketing application of a database is in almost every instance used to help a business understand consumer behavior to attract and gain new customers as well as retaining existing customers.

Databases come in many different forms and sizes. Some databases, like the early mobile phones, only store a few pieces of information such as your phone contacts and some databases, like Google, YouTube and the Library of Congress, store trillions of pieces of information.  Check out this interesting article on the Top 10 Largest Databases in the World.

Now that you know what a database is, and what kind of information is stored in a database, it’s probably important to realize that as we become a more technologically evolved and advanced society the amount of information which is digitally stored in databases is growing exponentially and very soon almost every piece of information imaginable will be stored in some type of database.