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How Much Will Your Database Really Cost? October 8, 2007

Posted by charitysolutions in charities, charity database, charity IT, databases.

So its time to buy a database for your charity or NFP.  You have been given a budget.  Now it’s just a case of searching for something that fits the bill and getting some quotes in isn’t it?

Yes…. and No.  Whatever you do, whatever system looks best, don’t forget the “extras”.

When comparing prices, remember there are more costs to consider than just the price per user of the basic system.  Some suppliers will be totally upfront about these additional charges, some may not – but either way it’s your budget on the line, so it pays to ask questions.

Here are some of the additional areas of cost that can easily get missed.

Maintenance Fees

Most suppliers charge a yearly maintenance fee  – make sure whether this is included in your first year’s purchase price or will be extra on top.  Check to see what the maintenance fee covers:

  1. Does it include all updates or just the minor ones?  (In other words, does it include just big fixes – if a wonderful new version of the database software comes out during the year, with you be charged extra for it?)
  2. Does it include Telephone Support help if you need it?  And if it does, what hours is this support available and does the provider give any type of SLA? (Service Level Guarantee – i.e.  a guarantee how long it will take before your problem is acknowledged or fixed.)
  3. Does it include “onsite” support if required?  (If you can’t resolve a problem over the phone, will a technical representative visit your offices to fix things.) 
  4. If any of the above are not included, what price will the supplier charge to provide these services?  Are these prices fixed for the next year or when could they change?

Installation, Commissioning and Customisation Fees

Almost every database will need some initial installation and setup.  If your organisation is fairly large, or if you already have a database and want to take the data in it across to the new system, there will be additional work to be done at the start to get the new database system working as you need it, with any data you already have working correctly with it.  This work can take time and can be complex, so make sure that your supplier gives you accurate costings of what they will charge in your specific case.   This is also an area where suppliers can “hide” costs, quoting an apparently competitive cost for the actual database software then piling on a rather hefty charge for the initial setup and commissioning work. 

You also need to consider whether you currently need the database system to do anything extra or different (or anticipate you might in the foreseeable future).  This could be anything from simply requiring a few field name changes or additions right through to requiring additional features. 

We will cover this in more detail another time, but basically you need to consider whether you are likely to need any changes and, if so, you need to determine whether you or your staff can do these changes or whether you will need to pay the supplier to do them for you.  If it is the latter, try to determine the costs involved now and see if the supplier will make any guarantees as to how long these costs will be guaranteed for – it is not unheard of for suppliers costs to increase dramatically after the initial product has been purchased and paid for.

Initial User Training

Will your users and administrators need training to use the software?  We will cover this in more detail another time (another long topic!), but make sure that you take any training costs into account from the start – they can vary wildly.  And however good the database you buy, it is going to be useless if the people who need to use it don’t know how to and can’t work it out.

Ongoing Administration and Maintenance

Most database software will need some form of regular maintenance.  Before you purchase, check what tasks are likely to be required and ask:

  1. What technical skills will be required to do them – will they be something you can do yourself or will they require an experienced technical administrator with skills no one at your organisation currently has? 
  2. How long will the maintenance tasks take? 
  3. How often will they need to be done?

Additional Hardware and Software

Make sure your supplier tells you the what kind of computing hardware and software will be required to host and run your new database.  You can’t assume that the hardware and software you already have will be sufficient.  If the new database is to be used by several users it is probably going to need to run on a server of some type – and you may be surprised how many suppliers assume that they don’t even need to tell you that their software will require a machine all of its own.  If your workstation PCs are old, you will also need to check that they are powerful enough to use the database, with a new enough operating system to work correctly with it.

And while we are on this subject, remember that your database will probably need to run on…. a database.  OK, this might sound stupid, but most custom charity database (or CRM) systems rely on an underlying “core” database (such as Microsoft SQL, Oracle, MySQL, SYbase, FoxPro… and numerous others) to do the underlying “manual work” – the “database” you are actually buying is the program that sits on top of this organising information into screens and providing the features and functions you need.  Most charity database developers (in fact most developers of any system that uses database technologies) do not want to re-invent the wheel in developing the core “manual” database functionality – apart from anything else it is a very specialised field to work in – and one that isn’t of interest to most developers out there!

Some of the “core” databases are free to use, but many cost a significant amount.   They can be priced  in a number of ways (per server, per user, per processor, per database) so make sure that your supplier tells you exactly what you need.  And remember that some manufacturers give discounts on the cost of software to charities, so make sure that you are getting the best pricing – find out what additional software is required and ask another company to quote for it to make sure that you get a good deal.

To Summarise

When comparing solutions, make sure that you are aware of the total cost you are going to need to pay out to get the database installed and running properly in your organisation.  Don’t base your decision just on the actual database software or you could be in for a nasty surprise when you get that final bill!

Any comments or questions?  Just post a comment…..


1. Tom - April 30, 2010

very good post. always check whether the price includes support and upgrades.

and always go for a free trial before committing to purchase anything.

also send in a support email and see what type of support you get before deciding whether to purchase.


Amphis Software

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