MS Access for the Business Environment: MS Access as a Documentation Tool: Database Diagramming

About the Series …

This
article is a member of the series MS Access for the Business Environment. The
primary focus of this series is an examination of business uses for the MS
Access relational database management system. For more information on the series, as well as the
hardware / software requirements to prepare for the tutorials we will
undertake, please see the first article of our series, Create a Calculated Field with the Expression
Builder
.

Note: The majority of the procedures I
demonstrate in the series will be undertaken within MS Access 2003,
although the concepts that we explore in this article will apply to MS
Access 2002
, and beyond. Along with MS Access, additional application
considerations apply for this tutorial, because it focuses upon activities that
are performed, within an MS Access Project file, in conjunction with MSSQL
Server 2000
.

For those joining the
series with this article, it is assumed that MSSQL Server 2000 is
accessible to / installed on your PC, with the appropriate access rights to the
MSSQL Server 2000 environment to parallel the steps of the article. Service
Pack 3 / 3a is also assumed. If this is the first time MSSQL Server 2000 is
being accessed from your machine, you may need to consult the MSSQL Server 2000
online documentation for installation and configuration instructions.

Overview

As
virtually any developer of a database knows, documentation of the structure
designed to contain data is a critical tool in many recurring scenarios, such
as operation and general maintenance. Users of databases, particularly those
who seek to extract data from them in an effective and efficient way, are often
distracted and frustrated from completing their objectives because they cannot
obtain even basic documentation, such as useful data dictionaries or current
database diagrams. In my work with some of the largest companies in the world,
who develop / purchase and operate databases that are often boggling to the
imagination in size and complexity, I am no longer surprised to find that one
of the most common issues in any business intelligence, OLAP, or other
development effort I undertake, is incomplete documentation. In many cases, I
find myself having to generate my own diagram, and, as crazy as it sounds, usually
have to explain to several onlookers why I need to undertake this exercise
instead of "just getting down to business."

In my
opinion, one of the primary strengths of the MS Access project (.adp)
is its portable, user friendly documentation capabilities, as I will overview
in this and subsequent articles. This capability is useful whether one uses MS
Access as an RDBMS or not.

The
lion’s share of my involvement with MS Access is comprised of migrating Access
databases to larger RDMS’, "upsizing" the core components to MSSQL
Server and other platforms, where I often graft existing table designs into
new, more robust schemas. In addition to database upsizing, I have recently
begun "upsizing" MS Access reports to MSSQL Server Reporting Services
(see my Database Journal article "Upsize"
MS Access Reports to MS Reporting Services
in this series) in various client
or training scenarios. Whatever the objective of the engagement, I find myself
quite often in those scenarios, to which I have already alluded, where no one
can produce a data dictionary (in some cases, it is "missing"; in
others, the individual with whom I am discussing it is not even aware of what
it is
…).

I therefore
often need to generate a quick view of the database to facilitate development
or maintenance tasks, building a query / dataset within Reporting Services or
another enterprise reporting tool, performing a data-quality examination, and
for other activities. In times like these, and in other scenarios where a
quick database diagram can be efficient and useful, the MS Access project
(.adp) can be a great documentation tool.

In this
article, we will explore using an MS-Access project for generating a database
diagram
. We will:

  • Establish a
    hypothetical business need for a database diagram;

  • Create an MS
    Access Project (.adp file) within which to perform the practice exercise;

  • Establish
    connectivity with an MSSQL Server database;

  • Create a
    database diagram, complete with table joins / relationship information;

  • Explain
    navigation and methods that we encounter throughout our practice exercise;

  • Explore distribution
    of the diagram through MS Word and other options.
William Pearson
William Pearson
Bill has been working with computers since before becoming a "big eight" CPA, after which he carried his growing information systems knowledge into management accounting, internal auditing, and various capacities of controllership. Bill entered the world of databases and financial systems when he became a consultant for CODA-Financials, a U.K. - based software company that hired only CPA's as application consultants to implement and maintain its integrated financial database - one of the most conceptually powerful, even in his current assessment, to have emerged. At CODA Bill deployed financial databases and business intelligence systems for many global clients. Working with SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase and Informix, and focusing on MSSQL Server, Bill created Island Technologies Inc. in 1997, and has developed a large and diverse customer base over the years since. Bill's background as a CPA, Internal Auditor and Management Accountant enable him to provide value to clients as a liaison between Accounting / Finance and Information Services. Moreover, as a Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) - a Certified Public Accountant recognized for his or her unique ability to provide business insight by leveraging knowledge of information relationships and supporting technologies - Bill offers his clients the CPA's perspective and ability to understand the complicated business implications and risks associated with technology. From this perspective, he helps them to effectively manage information while ensuring the data's reliability, security, accessibility and relevance. Bill has implemented enterprise business intelligence systems over the years for many Fortune 500 companies, focusing his practice (since the advent of MSSQL Server 2000) upon the integrated Microsoft business intelligence solution. He leverages his years of experience with other enterprise OLAP and reporting applications (Cognos, Business Objects, Crystal, and others) in regular conversions of these once-dominant applications to the Microsoft BI stack. Bill believes it is easier to teach technical skills to people with non-technical training than vice-versa, and he constantly seeks ways to graft new technology into the Accounting and Finance arenas. Bill was awarded Microsoft SQL Server MVP in 2009. Hobbies include advanced literature studies and occasional lectures, with recent concentration upon the works of William Faulkner, Henry James, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Honoré de Balzac, and Charles Dickens. Other long-time interests have included the exploration of generative music sourced from database architecture.

Latest Articles