Magic Databases

I enjoyed reading this case review from Josh Gilliland about a ruling in regards to production of data from a database. As it turns out, the information being asked for from the database, wasn’t actually tracked in the database. As Josh says:

However, there is a bigger issue: A database contains only what data it has in it, not necessarily the data a requesting party wants.  In this case, it appeared the information sought simply was not in the database without the responding party doing significant document review and then analysis of other data to generate a specific report for the Plaintiff.

This particular portion of the ruling brought me back to the days when part of my IT responsibility was to act as a database administrator, and the various requests I would get for reports. On a fairly regular basis I would get a request for information that had never been entered, and inevitably the requester would then complain about the database tool. No matter how hard I tried to explain that the reason I couldn’t have a tickler created of various client’s birthdays for example, wasn’t because of some fault of the tool, it was because no one had ever entered their birthdays in the database, they still saw it as an “IT problem”.

Apparently, whenever you have a database, it’s supposed to magically have any information on a record that might ever be needed, without anyone having to enter it. Seriously, more times than not, such as with the birthday request, the person requesting that feature didn’t even know when the birthdays were, and had made no attempt to collect that information in conversations with his clients, the database should just know. (Perhaps by cross-referencing the universal publicly-available all birthdays in the world database?)

Of course, that was 10 years ago, now I would simply tell him to friend his clients on Facebook and call it a day. 🙂

However the larger problem still exists. Databases are not magic. The only data that can be pulled out, is data that was put in the database in the first place. Far too many people, including lawyers, don’t seem to grasp this. Information in a database doesn’t get updated unless someone updates it. If you want to be able to pull out grievances that were dropped versus continued, for people who had since left the company, someone has to enter the information about people leaving the company in the grievance database. If it’s not there, you can’t pull it back out. This is the first time I recall seeing this truth play out in an ediscovery ruling, but I wouldn’t be surprised to know that this same conversation goes on in pre-trial discovery requests quite frequently. There are too many people who expect a database to be magic, and DBA’s to be the magicians who can get any data they want. I’m not saying a good DBA isn’t a little bit magician, but as complex a report as they can put together, the can’t report on data that simply hasn’t been entered.

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