Data is everywhere and used by almost everyone. Data management tools like Microsoft Excel are introduced to students in high school and used throughout postsecondary and the workplace. Many companies use Excel spreadsheets to manage their calculations, forecasting, analytics, and contacts, but oftentimes there are limitations to such “basic” tools. When this happens, many companies graduate to Microsoft Access. With advanced functionality and a rich set of design tools, Access can be a great program to store large amounts of data.
That being said, both Excel and Access have their pros and cons. One common disadvantage to both is the lack of groupware and online presence. This can be detrimental to organizations looking for an intuitive multi-user system. As of June 2021, over one million companies use Microsoft 365 and they still hold a large share in the global market for office suite technologies, but in recent years, people have been favoring online alternatives, mainly Google’s G Suite. People want simple and collaborative cloud-based systems. That is why many companies are moving their data online to systems such as WorkMap.ai – a cloud-based relational database system with no-code workflow automations. To get a conclusive idea on which systems best fits, let’s take a deeper look into Microsoft Excel and Access.
Microsoft Excel – Pros and Cons
Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet program used for data visualization and analytics. Excel documents are called workbooks, which contain spreadsheets called worksheets. Excel is one of the most popular software programs around the world for both personal and professional use. A study by Grid in 2018 reveals that there are an estimated 800 million users of Excel. They also mention that the demographic for Excel users are established companies and older people, though younger people who work at established companies often use Excel. A very common industry where Microsoft Excel is prevalent is accounting and finance.
Simplicity: Excel worksheets are formatted in a tabular spreadsheet structure with simple rows and columns. Data can be organized neatly and easily without confusion, which makes a more pleasant user experience.
Data Visualization: Excel can be used to visualize data in different ways. The spreadsheets can be used to create pivot tables, graphs, charts, and other models which make data analysis easier.
Formulas and Calculations: Excel makes it easy to calculate large amounts of numbers instantly with no calculator. Simple formulas can be used to calculate a variety of complex mathematical equations instantly. This is why Excel is used by many accounting professionals and financial analysts.
Easy to Learn: A huge advantage of using Excel is that it takes very little time and effort to learn. The fundamentals are often taught to students in high school and the advanced techniques and functions can be learned in less than a day.
Lack of Relational Worksheets: Although Excel uses a simple spreadsheet structure to organize data, different worksheets can’t be linked in a relational way. This is known as a flat or non-relational worksheet.
Data Integrity Issue: A problem in Excel which is not usually found in Access is the lack of data integrity. This means users can enter anything in any cell, even if it’s not supposed to be there. For example, one could type in a product name in a cell which belongs to the “Product Price” column.
Less Space: Excel is not a program that is built for storing large amounts of data, therefore, the storage capacity can be quite limiting. This is a problem because data often grows over time, but there won’t be any space. This is why it is difficult to use Excel to scale large scale projects in the long run.
Inefficiency: Without an intuitive form feature, new data needs to be manually entered into the Excel spreadsheet. This can take enormous amounts of time and energy if there is a large amount of data to be entered.
Microsoft Access – Pros and Cons
Microsoft Access is a relational database management system which is primarily used to design business applications. Data in Access is stored in tables, which can contain multiple fields with specific constraints such as date, number, text, etc. Many companies use Access as a way to store large amounts of information in relational tables. According to Enlyft, over 97,000 companies use Access globally. Along with that, Access holds 10.56% market share for database management systems. These are still impressive statistics, but the long-term future and durability of Microsoft Access remains in question.
Relational Database: A huge advantage of Access is the ability to relate data in different tables. Information can be stored in one table and referenced in another. Updates to data within that table will update automatically in the linked tables as well.
Storage Capacity: Access is built to handle enormous amounts of data. Being an actual database system, it is used to store and manipulate different types of data.
Data Intake Forms: With a huge database, it can be difficult to enter new information, but one great feature in Access is the ability to populate tables using intake forms. Entering records and visualizing data using forms is a very efficient and unique method that is not found in Excel.
Data Types: In an Access table, field types can restrict users from entering the wrong data in a specific field. Users will not be able to enter a person’s name in a number field or date field. This allows better data integrity within the table.
Validation Rules: A very useful feature of Microsoft Access is the ability to set up elaborate validation rules for fields, records, and forms. Examples of this include restricting the user to input a number smaller than 5 or ensuring the start date comes before the end date of a record.
Difficult to Learn: Access is more advanced than Excel and much more complicated to learn. To create complex applications using Access, some experience in database management systems and computer programming may be necessary.
Data Visualization: Although Access does have a few visualization tools such as charts, its presentation capability lacks in comparison to Excel. Reports on Access can be quite bleak and boring compared to other systems.
Single-file Format: Since data in Access is stored in one file, users may encounter performance issues when data reaches the size limit of the file. Slow reporting generation, lag, and crashing are problems that may be faced in these situations.
Security: Using Access by itself is not a good way to protect a database that needs to follow intense security protocols. There are reliability concerns when it comes to protecting data on Access if users are not using an additional server as a front-end application.
Multi-user Issue: Although Access can be used by multiple users at the same time, it can be quite complicated and unsecure. First off, Access is only meant to be used by a few people (less than 10) at the same time, otherwise the system becomes very slow. Secondly, in order to preserve data integrity, it is recommended to split work into front-end and back-end. This can be difficult to set up and learn for new users.
Which one is best for you?
Both Microsoft Excel and Access offer great features and are used globally by millions of people. However, it is important to ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. If it is for small-scale data analytics projects, visual data presentation or financial calculations, Excel may be the better choice. With its ease of use, calculation abilities, and simplicity, Excel can be a great choice for accountants, students, and financial analysts with short-term projects. If you are looking for a relational database that can store and link large amounts of data, Access seems to be the better fit. Though it may take some time to learn, Microsoft Access’s relational tables, data integrity, and data entry functions can benefit those who are growing a business or managing large projects that need linked items. Some people transition from Excel to Access, but many even find benefit in using both.
Is there a better option?
Both Excel and Access have their similarities and differences, as well as limitations. Over the past few years, many companies have been shifting over to online alternatives of Excel and Access. Cloud-based database management systems are taking over and on the forefront is WorkMap.ai. This online alternative to Access is an easy-to-use relational database system which organizes data in simple spreadsheet tables like Excel. Along with relational tables, multiple field types, custom intake forms, and reports, WorkMap uses custom no-code automations to create more efficient and autonomous workflows. If you or your team are looking for an online database that is both simple and scalable, look no further than WorkMap.ai.