Transitioning from Excel to a Relational Database (such as MS Access or WorkMap.ai)

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For most of us, Excel is the go-to business tool for storing and organizing information- it’s familiar and relatively efficient.  While Excel is definitely an effective tool for analyzing and visualizing data, it’s not always the best choice for long-term solutions. If you are maintaining a spreadsheet that is continuously growing or one that many team members are working with simultaneously, it may be time to switch to a relational database like Microsoft Access or WorkMap.  These relational databases can provide a more collaborative and scalable environment, among other things, allowing for more secure, consistent, and accessible data.

Improvements in Data Sharing

When using spreadsheets in Excel to store and manage data, there are many barriers to collaborating efficiently.  Offline file storage can seriously hinder collaboration capabilities.  In order for a team to work together on an Excel document, each individual must have their own copy of the document that is shared with the team each time it is updated. 

Opting for a relational database solution, such as MS Access or WorkMap, can allow members of a team to make contributions simultaneously, especially if a cloud-based solution is chosen. Data will be maintained in a central location, making it much more accessible to an entire team.

Improvements in data integrity and data consistency

Each time a member of a team makes a change to a spreadsheet, a new copy of the Excel file has to be distributed to each member of the team.  This process of sharing files has many drawbacks, and it negatively impacts data integrity and data consistency. A centralized relational database can offer a solution for storing data and maintaining its accuracy.

Additionally, it is often the case that Excel spreadsheets have a lot of data redundancies, or places in which the same data is stored multiple times, which also increases the risk of data inconsistencies. Since a relational database is storing raw data in separate but linked tables, new information only has to be updated in one location, which minimizes the potential for inconsistencies or errors in the data.

A relational database also offers many features for enforcing data integrity, such as setting data types for specific columns like numbers or dates.  Both MS Access and WorkMap offers many enforceable data types as seen in the images below.

Data Types in MS Access (top) and Data Types in WorkMap (bottom left and right)

Improvements in data security

Relational databases such as Microsoft Access or WorkMap offer greater levels of security for sensitive data than Excel is able to provide. In MS Access, permissions can be granted to users or groups of users in order to most effectively manage data. In WorkMap specifically, there are many levels of permission that can be granted on both the application and record levels, giving users either the permission to create, edit, or view records, depending on what is necessary.

With a cloud-based relational database that gets updated in real time, data is also more secure, as it is not being sent back and forth between team members via email.

Easily Scalable

Excel spreadsheets have a capacity of 1 million records that they are able to hold and are much less equipped to continuously change in size without structural changes to the spreadsheet.  Since relational databases minimize data repetition and only contain the raw data, they are able to grow in size with much greater ease than an Excel document. 

Additionally, Excel require users to manually enter information which can slow down processes and prevent growth. Relational databases, on the other hand, often provide the potential for more streamlined or automatic methods of entering data. For example, MS Access provides the option to input data directly into tables with the use of forms. WorkMap allows data to be entered through webforms, which allows outside, unlicensed users to enter information through a form that automatically is captured in the database. Examples of these forms are pictured below.

MS Access Form
WorkMap Web Form

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are many benefits of updating business processes to include a relational database.   More specifically, Gartner finds that by 2022, 75% of all databases will be deployed or migrated to a cloud platform, making WorkMap an ideal solution for a relational database that allows for the best collaboration and security. 

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