But, unless you’re some sort of savant, you can’t just look at something like this and get any real picture of how all of the various bits and bobs of information interconnect and work together. So, what do you do?
Well, you know what they say about pictures and a thousand words? We say that’s an understatement. In fact, visualization can help make sense of many thousands of words (and numbers), especially when that visualization is an entity relationship diagram.
Entities and attributes
Stripped down to the basics, your database contains anywhere from a small boatload to a luxury cruise liner’s worth of what we like to call Entities and Attributes. Let’s start with entities. In the insurance industry, Entities might include customers, policies, or claims. Entities are the people, places, things, or events about which the database stores information.
Once you’ve identified the entities, you’ll notice that each one comes equipped with it’s own set of Attributes. In the case of customers, for example, those attributes might include first name, last name, customer ID, street, city, and more. Attributes are the things you need to know about entities or that help to distinguish one entity from any other entity in your proverbial boat.
The important thing to remember is that entities and attributes do not stand alone. They interact and help define each other in any number of ways. And it’s these interactions that entity relationship diagrams help to visually map out and make sense of for those of us who don’t speak and dream in spreadsheet form.
A simple example
Let’s say you’ve got three entities – let’s go with “Customer,” “Policy,” and “Claim.”
To begin our diagram, we’ll create something like this: