What customers ask for is not always what they need

The Call

The other day I got an enquiry from a company. They stated that they needed a database and provided a diagram of the information they wanted to store. The database was not to do anything other than store information. I suppose that makes it a pure database.

The Analysis

Now, a progammer could just have taken that call and quoted on a database and gone to work. Banging out something over a few days and installing it. Then leave the customer to it. And whenever a change was needed – charge a hefty fee and make a huge profit.

The big boys do that – well first the provide some fairly useless analysis which then concludes that you need something (that does not fit your needs) and it will cost a large amount to ‘customise’ it. Later when you discover that it doesn’t fit your needs, they charge hefty fees to fix it.

But being a bit clever I concluded that what the customer needed was a knowledge base application. These types of applications are able to store items in a free-format hierarchy and cross-link between related items. This was pretty much what the client really needed. The client had asked for a ‘database’ because database is such a generic term that any type of storage of data is known as a ‘database’.

The Options & Solution

A search of the internet reveals that there are many products which think of themselves as a knowledge base. The sad fact is that most are very simple basic systems which are designed for help-desks. Many have single depth hierachy and are not customisable in the least. Most don’t have forms entry system for the items as they don’t support item attributes.

But a package like twiki ( is just what the cat ordered. Powerful, customisable, and free. Something like twiki can be setup in 2-3 days and will easily handle users needs. The addition on a couple of plug-ins for search and tree plug-ins is all that’s needed to make the system usable as a knowledge base. It supports item attributes, documents, automatic item linking – it meets requirements of most systems.


So when a customer rings and says “I need an Access Database” – the first thing any consultant worth their rate should do is dig deeper and analyse what they really need.

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