The strengths of Excel vs Access

As development consultants, we often get the question: “Should we do this project in Access or Excel?”. We can certainly see that is this is valid question to ponder in many business oriented projects that have database and reporting needs.

Excel or Access

Let’s take a look at the strengths of each software:

Access is a very capable database software. It can handle millions of transactional records in split seconds. What’s more, the database can be easily shared among 256 users in a networked-drive. For more specific needs, you can write VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) applications to process this huge amount of data and make them accessible to an entire department or a small company.

Excel on the other hand is a spreadsheet software. It is an excellent way to store business data and perform calculations right on your screen.Excel information is organised as “sheets” much like a large piece of paper. Users will find it easy to learn and use Excel in daily business. In fact it is the de-facto business software for most analysts. But you will discover that it is difficult (but not impossible) to share this information beyond your desktop.

So how do we make an intelligent choice?
Both softwares can store large amounts of data but you’ll find that Excel is much better at calculating and presenting this information to users compared to Access. Before you decide between Access or Excel, you should think about what benefits do you want:
1. A database-oriented application for storing and processing records
2. A document-oriented application to store and present information to users.

In most business-reporting requirements, Excel is a good development choice because it has strong record storage and processing abilities, while at the same time information is easily displayed in a flexible grid manner.

One Comment

  1. Jan-Paul 03/05/2012 at 3:48 pm - Reply


    Interesting review of options but what I feel is missing is to add a third variety; the blended approach. It is in fact quite easy – and especially appealing for SME businesses – to consider developing a data repository in Access and to exploit this database by querying it through an ODBC link with an Excel sheet (in fact one could even develop an Exel template that already has all the links included to the database to make it super easy for the end user). That way you get “the best of both worlds” meaning:
    1. accessible data to all associates and
    2. the power of Excel to run with this data and make relevant representations, charts or calculations.

    Just my pennies worth! Thanks for your blog, I read it with great interest.

    Cheers JP

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