vancouver database specialists

Excel abusers

by Richard Rickard on 04/Dec/2013

Excel is a great spreadsheet . . . but it’s not a database management system. Nonetheless over the years we have seen many organizations trying to use Excel as a DBMS. Why would anyone do that, you mght ask? Well, familiarity for one thing. Almost everyone has had some exposure to spreadsheets and has at least a rudimentary understanding of how to use one. The same is not true of relational database management systems such as Access. Compared to Excel Access seems a lot more complicated. A workbook is just a collection of worksheets, but an Access database has tables, and queries, and reports, and forms, and . . . . Well all those objects can be very daunting to someone who’s not even clear on the concept of entities. So of course they’re going to choose the tool they know how to use even if they realize it’s probably not the right tool for the job.

Another factor is expediency. A new project is launched and various details need to be tracked. The boss assigns that task to a subordinate. The data is already flowing and it needs to be captured and managed right now. There is no time to consult with anyone inside or outside the organization; there is no time to hire a developer to build even a quick and dirty database application. So the hapless subordinate reaches for the Swiss Army knife of software applications, Microsoft Excel, creates a new workbook and begins adding data, working out the format on the fly. It’s good enough for now, after all it’s only meant to be a temporary solution. Or at least that was the original thought, but the temporary ad hoc solution lives on, and several years later that workbook is now a collection of awkwardly named workbooks organized in a hierarchical folder tree according to project, fiscal year, purpose and whatever. It’s a sprawling mess. How to find anything? How to search? How to aggregate, summarize and report? It’s impossible.

We’ve seen this everywhere from the departmental level of small companies to the enterprise level of TSE-listed corporations. It’s mind boggling. It’s also surprisingly common.

Microsoft Excel is ubiquitous. And many people and organizations use it appropriately for tasks for which it is well-suited, such as analysis and modelling what-if scenarios and so on. But many others are using it for purposes where a database application would be far more appropriate and efficient. With a proper database application built on Microsoft Access or Microsoft SQL Server those users would be able to search, sort, query and aggregate their data easily and efficiently. Their data could be better secured, and data integrity and business rules could be enforced.

So, if you or anyone you know is an ExcelAbuser, I want you or your colleague to know that there are better ways to manage data than with Excel workbooks. Call the professionals at CompuWork today for a free consultation on this topic.

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