Best practice is a pervasive term that means different things to different people. Best practice has been defined in various ways (Dembowski 2013; Wellstein & Kieser 2011; Sanwal 2008). Dani et al. (2006) stipulate “A best practice is simply a process or a methodology that represents the most effective way of achieving a specific objective”. Jarrar & Zairi (2000) state that the term best practice is often used within organizations to depict leadership and is recognised as the best way to achieve superior results. In the glossary of benchmarking terms (American Productivity and Quality Centre 1999) cited in (Jarrar & Zairi 2000, p.S734) best practices were defined “Those practices that have been shown to produce superior results; selected by a systematic process; and judged as exemplary, good, or successfully demonstrated. Best practices are then adapted to a particular organisation”. Many different situations require different best practices and with new technology evolving ‘best’ is a moving target (Jarrar & Zairi 2000).
Markus (2011, p.4) argued that the cultures and practices that develop over time in organizations have changed to become “off-the-shelf” services labelled best practice standards, which organizations needed to adopt and understand. Markus argued the change from unique coded management ideas for handling packages to standard software with relentless upgrades requires knowledge development and standard practices.
Sanwell (2008) stated that the use of best practices are affected by certain beliefs:
- Best practices help make decisions quickly in a complex uncertain world.
- Best practices are easier because they have been proven by other organizations who also operate with complex and uncertain elements.
- Management understanding of other organizations in the field are organizational specific. Best practices are often developed later and often already behind leading organizations.
- Value must be gained from best practices as other experts, consultants and vendors share them for current trends.
- Best practices can improve performance.
Falconer (2010) argued to the contrary that best practice exacerbates failure:
“Best practice is flawed because it acts as a placeholder for proper management practice, displacing accountability for effectiveness and fit. Best practice is flawed, further, because it supplants strategy, adopting solutions out of convenience or copying them reactively, and supplants innovation, allowing “the best we know about”, “the best we’ve come across”, or even “the best we’ve done before” to be adequate. Best practice considers the world predictable, and discounts the emergence of better, novel ideas” (Falconer 2010, p.754)
Falconer thought that problem situations are being incorrectly handled due to best practices replacing analysis.
Sanwell (2008) pointed out that changing these best practices in the multidimensional world requires consideration of organizational culture and behaviour, organization processes and organizational systems. As Gonnering stated,
“Best Practices” can serve as a beginning but adaptation will most likely be necessary. Outcome is an emergent property, and the organization that has taken the time to learn the methodology of improvement will reap the benefits. The “continuous” in “continuous quality improvement” depends upon rapid-cycle, small-scale serial innovation and not a static and dogmatic adherence to past processes.” (2011, p.100)
Gonnering argued that complex problems using best practices failed to have positive outcomes and forced the complex systems to become chaotic. Bretschneider et al. (2004) highlighted three important characteristics of best practice: a comparative process, with action, and linked to an outcome or goal. Nattermann (2000) suggested best practice might be the most widely used management tool in business and important for improving operational efficiency, but for strategic decision making, best practices might not be the best way forward to increase profit margins. Best practices management could be used to benchmark performance, with certain benchmarks being required to demonstrate best practices.
The core or classic best practices utilised within the database community have been developed through the sharing of knowledge, experience and actual outcomes across the sector. The improvement of these best practices were raised by Gratton & Ghoshal (2005) with the term “a signature process”, a process that envelops the company’s character and idiosyncratic nature. This signature process could advance the company although it required careful adaptation and alignment to business goals to succeed. However the allure of classic best practices that were clear, logical and easy to understand were the ones shared within the database community, the body of knowledge often yielding optimal results (Tucker et al. 2007). Some best practices were tightly coupled with their organizations and inseparable from the context (Becker 2004).
Jarrar & Zairi (2000) identified three types of best practice: proven best practice across organizations, good practice techniques for an organization, and unproven good ideas based on intuition. There were drawbacks with unproven ideas that could be a matter of luck and the lack of information to reduce the risk, lack of situational context, application criteria or success measure (Falconer 2011). This serendipitous discovery could lead to ease of deployment and innovation.
The Cynefin framework (Snowden & Boone 2007) classified and ordered simple systems in the domain of best practices. In an earlier paper in the chaos domain Kurtz & Snowden (2003) argued that applying best practices probably caused the chaos in the first place. They argued that different contexts use different management responses and that there are different tools for the management of complex contexts. The best practices domain is based on cause and effect relationships that have simple contexts, often within areas that do not change frequently.
Wagner and Newell (2011, p.400) stated that “The best way of operationalizing a process in one context and at one point in time may be different in another context and time”. They contended that there is no such thing as best practice, as knowledge is created by engagement in a practice. Practice is always changing and emergent with inconsistencies in the same practice, with best practice being defined locally.
Wagner and Newell (2011, p.401) suggested a move to negotiated practice with a cooperative approach to best practice adoption. Their aim was to smooth out complex implementation through compromise. They concluded that highlighting problems with identifying best practice (due to it being an interactive process based on learning through implementation with information systems) sometimes required customisation to work well. This approach was also adopted by Avgerou & Land (1992) with their notion of ‘appropriate’ context specific practice, where information systems innovation looked for “best practice, or suitable new organizational form for the information age” (Avgerou 2011, p.650).
Avgerou drew together organizational and information systems to develop a framework which had one key tenet of a knowledge management system or a best practice solution to help address static and commoditized technology.
Best practices and procedures were continually developed by database software providers (e.g. Microsoft, Oracle and MongoDB) to enable the management of database systems to be carried out to the highest standards. The procedures were based on formal rules the business world defined which were sometimes called standard operating procedures (Becker 2004). Best practices were defined by the software providers as exemplary tested designs for certain configurations or ways of doing things. They were multi-faceted and resided in varying layers from architectural design, through development, to operational management.
The management of database systems utilizes best practices and procedures provided by software providers and often industry best practices shared by the community. McGregor (2007) argued that this rarely leads to great customer service. McGregor’s (2007) idea that “Next Practice” was the future of continually analysing and looking for positive quality products and service in other organizations, would bring ideas and innovation to improve the business. There was an aspiration to improve database management and improve business processes to provide good quality service when managing IT projects and database systems. Best practices might not however be the best solution. Sanwell (2008) raised some key issues with using processes and strategies created by other organizations, and did not believe that following these would create a better organization or bring about improvement.
Within database systems there are various types of practices and procedures that need to be incorporated within change processes. Savage (2014, p.17) stated Stonebraker thought “in memory” database engines will take over online transactional processing systems (OLTP). Savage (2014, p.16) shared Stonebraker’s views on the database world, that it could be divided into three types: OLTP, data warehouses and everything else (Hadoop, graph databases). This was likely to mean three or more database management and best practices models were required.
Best practices operate at different levels within the sphere of database management. There are technology best practices which deal with specific tasks for deployment of databases onto servers or into the cloud; and management best practices which relate to higher level functions and overall processes. In addition there are best practices which are defined by software vendors for their own products. As technology and management change, in the world market, and more is understood about certain areas, best practices change. Thus best practices are replaced with new best practices. The large collection of best practices created are likely to be defined and owned by a multitude of people. This can cause problems with conflicting best practices. Sometimes there is a mismatch between best practices and a compromise needs to be found where possible.
Best practices are intended to be useful for technical solutions to help people provide the required results. They aim to provide a useful guide on what management need to do to perform certain tasks. Best practices are sometimes adapted from vendor or industry defined best practices for nonstandard configurations or different business scenarios. However, sometimes communication is lacking between the management requirements, the vendors’ practices and the technology tasks. Different teams may each create best practice, in places where the technology overlaps, which are not shared. There are therefore limitations to the usage of best practices. The best practices presented are significantly different for ILTM, CMM and ILTIL. There are many different types of tasks from in depth technical ones to higher level models that combined can produce a well-managed database system. Each task, model or part of the database system will have its own best practice, which aims to achieve those reliable results. These best practices at different levels may, in practice, sometimes be in conflict. This discussion on best practice has shown there are many diverse views on the usability and definition of best practice. The working definition in my research (Holt, 2017) for best practice was: a recommended practice for carrying out actions for desirable outcomes, rather than always being the best way of doing something. The research best practice findings are in Holt et al. (2015) and the working cogs of best practice summaries the findings.
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