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  Shadow databases. Records
Shadow Databases Home | Where do they come from? | Resolution | Being Vigilant
Shadow DatabasesWith the advance of the current generation of spreadsheets and database management tools it has become easier than ever to create database management systems and upload data into them. Institutions need to be aware of shadow databases and how to resolve their use.

Independent databases, or “orphan systems,” as they are sometimes called, are among the most controversial and difficult to manage forms of data that exist.

Problems Caused by the use of Shadow Databases
  • Data synchronization between the main system and the shadow system may not exist.
  • Shadow databases can be used for unauthorized mailings and solicitations, affinity marketing and other asks and activities that may fall outside the scope of central policy and authorization.
  • They may not include vital information regarding donor or gift anonymity that is recorded in a central system.
  • The use and creation of shadow databases does not promote the use or knowledge of a central system other than in a generally negative concept.
  • Shadow databases are not often adequately secured or backed up. Institutions can be subject to exposure if data is inadvertently released to non-authorized sources.
  • Although users of shadow databases will often make the claim that their data is more accurate, these databases often lack the stringent data entry and control standards used in a central system.
  • Shadow databases will typically not be subject to the same methods of data cleansing that the main institutional database is such as postal standards and address correction updates.
  • They lead to disparate and conflicting reports on items such as alumni counts, address statistics, participation and other measures of advancement performance.
  • Do not mail, do not solicit, and other similar restriction and opt out codes are not likely to be included in shadow databases.
  • Duplication of institutional resources for data entry, database maintenance licensing fees.

On the flip side, shadow databases may also have a number of benefits:

  • They may contain useful data that the central records staff may not have been aware of that can enhance the central database once integrated.
  • Staff maintaining the shadow database may be useful as additional resources for data entry.
  • These databases when discovered may represent an opportunity to improve training, system functionality or other aspects of services provided to constituents.

Although generally a problem, benefits can often result depending on how shadow database issues are resolved.

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