Using MS Excel vs Access For Databases

Today, we’re going to compare two data management systems used to analyse and store data. The software we’ll be comparing is Excel vs Access, both of which are great systems and have their own strengths and weaknesses for database management.


MS Excel vs Access Comparison

MS Excel and Access are both Microsoft Office products. Microsoft Access, from the Office suite, is an excellent general-purpose database management system made for storing and analysing data.

Excel on the other hand is a spreadsheet package, with lots of extra features thrown in which allow you to do things like creating pivot tables for summarising data. Using Excel as a database is great for small businesses and database beginners.

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What Is MS Excel Used For?

Many people use Excel in business for a range of tasks from simple admin to full-scale automation. Thanks to its easy to use features Excel is very flexible and allows you to summarise data quickly without having to do anything too complicated.

Some of the uses for Excel include:

  • Tabulating and analysing complex numerical data
  • Creating tables and forms
  • Writing and running macros to automate tasks
  • General day-to-day data management (e.g., creating reports, charts, etc.)
  • Store and manipulate audio and video files

Excel is very intuitive and easy to use, which allows most people to learn it quickly. If you’re job hunting, including Excel skills on your CV can help you out a lot!

What Is A MS Access Database Used For?

MS Access is a database management system that gives you the ability to store your data in a relational database. This means that you can have multiple tables, linked together to form a relationship, which is all stored in one file.

The advantage of this is that if you update data in one table, it automatically updates all related records. This eliminates a lot of time-consuming admin and manual errors.

Access is great for

  • Storing and managing large amounts of data
  • Running reports that allow for grouping and sorting data
  • Managing relational databases (e.g., adding and deleting tables, etc.)

The main disadvantage of Access is that it can be quite confusing to set up a database the first time. This means you should work with an MS Access Expert to help set it up and ensure everything is running smoothly.


Key Differences Between Excel vs Access

Excel and Access share some traits but are ultimately different tools. Comparing Excel vs Access is a useful way to highlight the key differences between them and understand where the strengths and weaknesses are for both products.

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The key differences between Excel and Access can be summarised as follows:

Excel vs Access – Data Visualisation

Excel allows you to add graphics such as charts, pictures, etc. to your worksheets. You can also link these pictures or graphics to your data so they automatically update when the data updates. This is great if you have a report that requires data to be displayed in the form of a chart.

Access allows you to add custom forms when creating a database. These forms can take multiple pieces of information from a user and display them in an organised fashion, so they are easy to read and navigate.

You can also add buttons or links on these forms so your users can navigate to the information they require. This is useful if you need your users to provide data on a form or screen that they must print and sign, etc.

Excel vs Access – Automation

Excel allows you to add macros so you can automate Excel tasks such as deleting reports once they have been printed and saving files on a regular basis. These are useful if your company requires the same routine tasks to be performed on various data files on a regular basis.

On the other hand, Microsoft Access allows you to create modules in which you can write VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) code. This allows you to automate certain tasks, such as inserting new records into a table or deleting old records. This is great if your company needs a certain set of tasks to be completed on a regular basis.

Excel vs Access – Data Security

Excel does not allow you to add security measures to your files, so anyone with access will be able to view or edit the data. You can lock or protect individual worksheets with user-level security features, which might be useful if you need to restrict access to certain worksheets.

Access allows you to control who has access to your database files and what they can do with them. You can create usernames for multiple users so different people have different levels of access, depending on which username they use.

This is great if you want some users (e.g. managers) to update data, while others (e.g. MS Access consultants) are only allowed to view the data and access data when needed.

Excel vs Access – Data Analysis

Excel allows you to perform basic data analysis by adding formulas and performing certain functions on written values.

Access has specific tools that are designed for analysing and summarising your data. These include PivotTables, which allow you to create tables that summarise the data in various ways (e.g., number of sales per region, etc.). This is great if you want to quickly analyse large amounts of data.


5 Reasons To Use Microsoft Access vs Excel

Because Access is a professional database programme, it has some significant benefits over Microsoft Excel when building and using databases. Here are five reasons to use Access vs Excel.

1. User Security Model

Access provides all the tools needed to set access permissions on objects such as tables and queries. The security model allows you to grant or deny certain users (e.g., managers) rights to edit or update data while restricting other users (e.g., consultants) so they are only allowed to view data in pre-defined ways.

2. Data Storage Capacity

Access is superior to Excel when it comes to the amount of data you can store in a database. This is because Access is specifically designed for storing large amounts of data, whereas Excel was not.

3. Maintaining Data Integrity

Access allows you to define field types and limits, which enforces appropriate data entry and prevents users from unintentionally inserting invalid values into fields.

For example, if your database requires a specific data format, Access can enforce this by defining the field as a Date type and setting an appropriate limit (e.g., only valid dates). The same applies to numerical values, currency types or text containing specific characters.

4. Data Analysis

Access provides various tools that are specifically designed for performing data analysis on large data sets. Use Pivot Tables to create tables summarising the data in multiple ways quickly (e.g., number of sales per region). This way, you don’t have to enter all the data manually to find the information you need.

5. Summarising Data

Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) allows you to write code to execute specific tasks regularly. This makes it very easy to bring your database up-to-date by adding new records or deleting old ones. The VBA capability allows you access to the tables and fields within your database, which means that you can automate tasks like importing new records and exporting data to other applications.


5 Examples Where An Excel Database Is Useful

While Access is better suited to being used as a database, Excel can still be helpful too. Here are three examples where an Excel database might be a good idea:

1. Phone Book

If you have a small phone book, using Microsoft Excel may be sufficient to store contact details. However, if you have a larger phone book, you could create a copy of the contacts in Excel and convert this into a database to make it easier to sort, update and retrieve information. In this case, you can utilise the standard functionality in Excel to create and manage your contacts.

2. Product Information Management (PIM)

Microsoft Excel’s ability to create and update records makes it very useful for storing PIM data. The spreadsheet can be set up with one column per product and another column for the price.

One of the most important fields is probably stock, which specifies how many products you have in stock. You can then quickly update this when you receive new products from suppliers or sell existing ones to customers.

3. Budget Planning  

You may want to use a spreadsheet in your budget planning because it makes it easy for you to create and manage several budgets.

Simply enter the budget items for each month, the beginning balance, create a formula to calculate the year-to-date totals and then sum up all of these values at the end.

4. Inventory Management

One of Excel’s strengths is its ability to insert large amounts of data quickly. This can be useful if you need to keep track of thousands or even millions of products.

For instance, you could create a spreadsheet where one row is created per product and include the price in these rows. This way, if you add new products, update prices or remove items from stock, you can simply enter the new values into Excel and then write a macro to update your inventory system automatically.

5. Sales & Order Tracking

Another way to use Excel as a database is by setting up one sheet per order. This allows you to create and update records easily and quickly view information such as the customer name and address, the list of items ordered, their prices, and quantities.


Choosing Microsoft Access vs Excel For Your Business

Both of these software packages have their advantages and disadvantages. It really depends on what you want to do with them and how much knowledge you have on the product before deciding which is right for you.

If you need to use a database regularly and need to automate tasks, Microsoft Access may be a better choice as it allows you to write VBA code. If you only need the software occasionally or want a simple solution for managing data, then Excel is probably more suited for your needs.

If you need help with databases in Excel or Microsoft Access contact our database experts today. We’ve worked with businesses across multiple industries to create professional databases solutions for millions of data records.

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