Are you wondering if you should use Microsoft Access? If you are a small or medium sized enterprise (SME), there's a good chance Access could be beneficial. Let's talk about why.
First, let me be clear that I'm assuming you've already decided that you need a database. You may have found that you've got a dataset not covered by any of the software packages you currently own, or you may have been using Excel as your database tool until now. Or maybe, worst case scenario, you're tracking some things on paper. One way or another, let's assume you've come to the conclusion that you need a database, and now you're trying to determine which tool to use.
There are many options available including Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Google Forms, and many more. Each has its own merits, so how do you choose?
One thing that makes it hard to choose is that Microsoft Access has two distinct functionalities.
It servers as a database - a storage location for your data.
It also serves as a front-end, presenting that data to your users through forms and reports.
As you're choosing a tool, keep in mind that Access is one of the few tools that combine both of these features. If you choose not to use Access, make sure you account for both sides of that fence.
Microsoft Access sometimes gets a bad rap in the IT world for many reasons that I won't go into here. That said, as an IT developer for many years with experience in many database and forms tools, I can tell you that Access is one of the best for small and mid-sized organizations. Here are some of the reasons why.
One Stop Shopping
For small organizations that don't have a dedicated IT staff, it's helpful that Access contains both the data piece and the presentation piece. That means you've only got one tool to learn, and will have no concerns about linking multiple tools together. It even includes a decent report builder, so no need to add on Crystal Reports or something similar.
It's Old - Er... I mean Mature
Microsoft Access has been around since 1992 and has had millions of users over the course of its lifetime. That means that its a proven entity with a solid track record. Is it perfect? No. But mature software = stable software.
It Plays Well with Others
If you're using Excel, Microsoft SQL Server, or other Microsoft products, Access integrates well with them. You can link your Access database to SQL Server and import Excel data into your Access tables, just to name a couple of options. If your company is standardized on the Microsoft platform, Access fits right in.
It's Easy (Relatively)
Although there is a learning curve with Microsoft Access, its a smaller curve that many other presentation tools I've used. Take ASP.Net or Crystal Reports, for example. If you're already familiar with other Microsoft tools (like Word or Excel), you'll probably pick up Access quicker that either of those. Also, unlike most other tools, you don't need to learn any coding language to use Access.
There is a Clear Upgrade Path
One of my favorite things about Access for small businesses is that there is a clear upgrade path as your needs grow. I've helped several clients move up to a SQL Server backend for their data, while keeping Access as their front-end for forms and reports. Some even take the final step of upgrading from the Access front-end to a web-based or windows-based solution using Microsoft Visual Studio with ASP.Net, Windows Forms or WPF. Because you're keeping it all in the Microsoft family, the upgrade path is straight forward.
So there you have it, a few of the reasons I often recommend Access to my clients. There are some great new tools coming onto the market, but its still hard to beat Access. Don't let anyone tell you that Access is going to be discontinued - those rumors have been around for over 20 years. Microsoft won't drop support for a product with such a huge user base until they've got something better to offer, and right now, nothing seems to be in the works. Yes, Microsoft will someday drop support for Access, but chances we'll all be be long since retired before that happens. In the meantime, Access is a great tool for getting a handle on your data.
As always, reach out to me if you'd like to discuss your Access project. If you're not sure if you need Access, I'll evaluate your situation and make a recommendation.
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About the Author
Kimberlee Martin is the owner of North Port Solutions and has 30 years of IT experience. She's worked with several programming languages and database tools over the years, with her favorites being Microsoft Excel VBA, SQL Server, and Visual C#. Her passion is helping small businesses gain insights into their business with effective reporting and data management.
Contact Kim at email@example.com.
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