We all know what Microsoft Excel is. It’s a spreadsheet software. It’s not a database. It’s never been a database. It never will be a database. Do I sound strident there? GOOD!
Seriously, it’s not a database, folks, so please quit using it as one. I can’t tell you how many places I’ve worked keep critical data in spreadsheets, jumping through all kinds of hoops and writing all kinds of code to get it to act like a database. The employee hours they spend maintaining these spreadsheets and getting information back out of them just astounds me. Why don’t they just convert it to a database and be done with it?
I’ve heard many excuses over the years as to why businesses use Excel over Access. Let’s debunk some of those reasons.
It really isn’t, you know. Most employees who interact with the database only need to know how to fill in a form or click on an already created report. The only people who need any in-depth knowledge of Access are the ones who create the database and those who maintain the back end of the database. And honestly, they need less in-depth knowledge than the person struggling with coding in Excel to try and get a spreadsheet to act like a database, and they don’t have to spend nearly as much time to manage the database.
So what? You may have always used a hammer to crack nuts, but it doesn’t make it the best tool for the job. If you’re working on the company financials, by all means, use a spreadsheet. If you’re detailing your budget, of course you’ll use a spreadsheet. But if you’re maintaining non-numerical data, use a database. Actually, even most financial data is kept on a database these days (that’s what accounting programs are, they’re databases). They simply export cumulative data to spreadsheets for special financial calculations such as projections and planning.
How many times have I heard this? And a year or three later, they’re still using that spreadsheet, only it’s grown to 10,000 rows and takes 5 minutes to open. Unless you’re intending this spreadsheet to be a list of your 50 or so employees with phone numbers, you’re probably better off with a spreadsheet. Although, even the list of employees could possibly grow exponentially, so scratch that idea. Seriously though, if you think you’re just making a small list, go ahead and put it into a spreadsheet. But if over time that list is growing unmanageable, then create a database and import your data from the spreadsheet. It’s really simple to do and well worth the 5 minutes it’s going to take you.
Here’s the nitty gritty of why you should use a database to store data and not a spreadsheet:
The next time your boss wants to use a spreadsheet for a project better suited to a database, just say no. Explain why a database is better and get permission to use a database. Like I said, Excel is a good tool for certain things, but it just isn’t a database.