Using Excel as a database for your invoices, to do’s, project timesheets, and more is an excellent way to cut down on data entry time and gain new business insights. Data, particularly numerical data, can be used for everything from reviewing past sales to predicting future costs in your business.
Businesses from every sector use data in their day-to-day activities, and while data is an integral part of any organisation, it’s no use on its own. Without proper data management, your information will be pretty much useless. Using Excel as a database or a similar data management tool will help categorise and segment your data, so it’s accessible and usable.
If you’re interested in learning more about using Excel in business as a database and how it compares to other Microsoft solutions like Access, this post is for you!
What Is A Database?
Before we dive into using Excel as a database, let’s define what a database is for those who haven’t created or used a database before.
A database is a broad term for a system that stores multiple records of data. Databases come in many different forms and allow users to store, search, filter data and review numerical information. Databases can have a one to one relationship, one to many relationship or a many to many relationship meaning that one record can have multiple other records or that other records can exist without a primary record.
These solutions can be offline or stored online using the Cloud. Databases come in a variety of styles and can be customised to suit your organisation’s unique requirements. Relational databases, for example, allow data to be shared between several different computer systems, which gives users the ability to store, update and share data.
Databases can store a wide variety of information and can be split up into sections making searching for data and identifying patterns easier and less time-consuming. A database might also include user permissions, a drop-down menu, complex calculations and advanced filtering options.
What Programmes Can You Use To Create A Database?
Databases can be made using a wide range of offline and online programmes. As well as Microsoft Excel, you can also use a selection of other solutions to create a database for your organisation.
Many of these tools are specialist database solutions, such as Knack and IBM Informix, which you can get subscriptions to and use to build databases.
Another Microsoft tool that can be used to create databases is Access. Both Access and Excel are part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite of products, meaning that they’re easily accessible to many business users.
Access is part of the Professional suite of tools, so users do need to pay extra to upgrade their licence to use it. However, it is a valuable tool similar to other Microsoft programs, making it user-friendly and useful for small-mid size businesses.
Using Excel As A Database Vs Access
While Excel is a helpful tool for storing and managing your data there are many spreadsheet and database programmes to explore. For example, Microsoft Access is specifically designed for creating and managing databases and storing data. Many businesses use it as their single database, so they have a master copy of their data set.
Some of the differences between Microsoft Excel and Access when it comes to data management include:
- Access is designed to manage databases and can act as your master database
- Excel is specifically created to allow data management and visual representation of information
- Excel is easier to use than Access for Microsoft novices
- Excel is non-relational as opposed to Access, which allows relational data
- Access has a greater capacity for data storage than Excel
What Are The Benefits Of Using Excel?
Excel and Access are two unique tools, and each has its own benefits. While Access was designed to manage databases, Excel has many handy features to let you make calculations, automate data functions, generate reports, build a searchable database and more.
Some of the many benefits of using Excel to manage your data and create small databases are:
- Excel is already tabular, and it’s easy to view an Excel worksheet and access data
- Most business leaders have access to and know the basics of Excel
- Excel is perfect for numerical data, making calculations, and it’s easy to enter data
- The rows and columns are easier to understand than some more complex database layouts
- VBA allows users to automate tasks and link Excel to other software programs
When To Use Excel As A Database
Excel can be used as a database when you’re only dealing with a small amount of information, or it’s not particularly business-critical.
An Excel database might also be used as a starter database for small business leaders who want to experiment or learn more about managing their data. For example, by creating a customer database or a database that only requires a simple database record.
As your business grows, you might want to explore more specific database software specifically designed to act as a database and deal with all the data your company collects. Such a database will often have better security and can manage and store larger amounts of data.
Excel can handle just over a million records, but if you have more data records or regularly add new records to your data, it might struggle to deal with these volumes. In this case, you should consider using a specially-designed database program.
How Excel & Other Databases Can Work Together
While Excel might not be an ideal database if you’re dealing with over a million records, using a database in Excel is a useful tool for managing data. As such, you can still use Excel to manage your data and use the formulas to create unique predictions and insights.
You can then sync your Excel sheet with a larger database on a SQL server to transfer the data into a larger collection of information without entering the data again.
This approach will reduce your chances of corrupting your Excel files and spreadsheets, which aren’t designed to hold extremely large amounts of data. It’ll also mean that you can still use Excel for small sections of your data and easily transfer it to a larger and more secure database tool.
Excel can be used in conjunction with most tools, both Microsoft’s own suite of products and third-party solutions. It has many functions and capabilities, including the ability to calculate averages and insert complex formulas easily.
So, if you’re struggling to perform these functions in another database program, you can combine its superior storage and security functions with Excel’s innovative capabilities.
How To Create A Simple Excel Database
Creating a database in Excel is surprisingly straightforward and can be done by almost anyone. The tool is intuitive and easy to use, so making a simple database is quick and easy.
Excel is a tabular tool, so the best layout is a database table. All you need to do is create the columns and rows, which will act as the database field and then enter data.
Once your data is in, you can search the database, review your information and even summarise data. You can also add formulas and use VBA, the programming language for Excel, to create instructions and automate the management of your database.
With Excel, you can also create multiple tabs and link them to input data to spread the content around and ensure that everything is clearly labelled. However, Excel doesn’t allow the creation of a relational database, but you can still cross-reference and cross-link different tables and pull the data into a master table.
What Can You Use a Database For?
As Excel databases are easy to use and completely customisable, they can be made to suit the needs of a variety of organisations. There are many ways you can use them to save your company time and effort.
Some examples of what to use a database for in your business include:
- Listing customer or student data related to times/ appointments
- Calculating total sales figures over a set timeframe
- Tracking the productivity of team members
- Reviewing work orders
- Storing and managing data on stock
- Storing digital assets and marketing material
- Keeping supply chain management records and processes
- Storing customer details and order information
- Managing product information
- Automating data entry using Excel automation
Using databases for your business, and even for personal use, can bring a wealth of benefits. You can free up your time, increase your productivity and slice through information quickly. It’s much easier to understand data when it’s organised in an Excel database compared with an unstructured list or via another type of cloud-based program.
Summary: Using Excel As A Database
Ultimately, Excel is not technically a database but a spreadsheet and data management tool. That being said, Excel is a useful tool for business leaders who want to use it to create their first initial database and learn how to manage their information.
Whether you’re a small business or an organisation that wants to manage a small amount of data, Excel can be the perfect tool. The best thing about using Excel as a database is that it’s an easily accessible tool that can be used by almost everyone on your team.
For larger businesses, Microsoft Access could be a useful solution to help you to expand your database and manage more information. Excel can be used in conjunction with Access and other database solutions, even for larger organisations, as it has many innovative capabilities and data management functions.
If you’re planning on using Excel as a database, you need to understand the basics of using Excel and how it can interact with other Microsoft solutions, including Access.
About The Excel Experts
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Check out our MS Office training and Excel training courses to find a solution that works for your business. Our team can create a custom training solution for your organisation and help you and your team make the most of Excel.
If you’d like to learn more about our services and how we can help you use Excel to its full potential, then contact us today.