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Bad Data Structures Prevent Growth

One of the greatest barriers to the expansion and development of a business are inflexible data structures in its key computer systems.

Hard Coding Makes Life Harder

Due to inadequate (or no) data modelling prior to designing and building them, many restricting structures get hard coded into databases.  One of the most common examples of this are postal address structures.  Because systems usually start out being defined or developed by a team that is resident in one country, the postal structures for that country are usually what end up in the database.  This typically result in an address structure something like this:

The above structures might suffice for countries within the UK but would not fit the rest of Europe or the US. The analysts would defend their structures by saying that the few “foreign” addresses that they get are the “exception” and should be dealt with as such.

This seems a plausible argument but what they are really saying is “we have no intention of ever doing any significant business with any other countries”!

I wonder if the senior executives know that this decision has been made for them?

“Flexible” Does Not Mean “Unstructured”

Some data analysts try to avid the hard coding and arrive at solutions such as this:

This is not flexibility, it is simply a complete absence of structure.

Generic Structures Save the Day

Good general or “generic” data structures are the answer to the address structure problem – and to nearly all other structural database problems. A generic structure that can handle the postal address structure for any country is shown below.

The above structure would allow the structure for all countries to be handled by the database. By simply altering the order of data entry and putting Country first, all of the other fields required for the address structure for the country in question can be displayed and filled in.


  • Inadequate data structures in databases are a major barrier to business growth.
  • Inadequate data analysis and modelling cause flawed structures to be hard coded into databases or no structure at all.
  • Proper data modelling, using an Entity Relationship Diagram, enable powerful, flexible, generic structures to be developed and built into databases first time.
  • These generic techniques can also be used to address different national tax structures.
  • Special care must be taken with Agile development to avoid the hard coding described above.

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