Dividing a jointly owned database

Recustomizing the database to satisfy each person's needs

Access to useful information, with unwanted memories deleted

* * *

Many relationships, both business and personal, begin in bliss and end in hell. For business partners who decide to split, deciding who gets what can be as difficult as deciding who gets the house after a divorce. Yet when Mario Petri and Barbara Gutierrez went their separate ways, they found themselves with the opposite problem: they both got the computer system, and they both were unhappy with it.

In 1990 Petri and Gutierrez had hired Jim Foy, co-owner of Dynamic Alternatives, in Winnetka, Ill., to customize a Superbase database for the psychological-counseling service they owned together in Chicago. "The dynamics between Mario and Barbara had a lot to do with the shape of the system," Foy recalls. Gutierrez, the business mind, was into the marketing side of the business. She was more interested in keeping track of financials and patient referrals than she was in the minutiae of patient histories. Says Gutierrez, "Mario was almost too detail-oriented. I didn't want details, just the bottom line."

"She was into business," Petri says, "and I was more into the specific treatment of patients." Petri wanted client histories and detailed patient information. He was more interested, for instance, in which patients were resistant to treatment or which ones spoke English as a second language than in up-to-the-minute financial reports.

Foy recalls acting as a translator between the computer-savvy Petri and the bottom-line Gutierrez, and he designed a compromise system that took into account both of their styles. Then, instead of licensing the code to the database, Foy sold it to the partners, which meant they became joint owners of the program.

When Gutierrez and Petri split, in 1993, the breakup was messy and tense. Fortunately, they didn't have to wrangle over the database. Because they owned it jointly, each could take a copy. But now the design compromises seemed odious -- unnecessary and irritating reminders of the other partner's style.

Gutierrez and Petri separately contacted Foy, who recustomized the database to fit each of their personalities. Gutierrez got her clean, clear financial reports. For example, she can now call up a worksheet that shows how much each therapist who works for her is making on commission and generating in revenues. She also got a tracking system for client referrals to help her with marketing functions. Petri was able to add even more elaborate reports for patient histories and progress information. For example, he now can track what sort of outside remedial education each client is getting or pull up notes on whether ex-patients have completed their treatment programs successfully.

Foy too has benefited from the arrangement. He currently consults for both Petri and Gutierrez.

-- Sarah Schafer