What Is Microsoft Access — And Should You Know How to Use It?

Most business owners need a solution that’s somewhere between “I wrote it down in my notebook” and “I deployed a relational database.” On the one hand, notebook experts use color-coded tabs, symbols in the margin, shorthand, and organizational wizardry. On the other hand, a relational database is pretty heavy-handed, requires a lot of upkeep, and can be costly. What’s a mom-and-pop shop to do?

Enter Microsoft Access.

What is Microsoft Access?

Microsoft Access is an application that creates small-ish, easy-to-use databases that can hold your organization’s data (though, Access DBs can get large and complex). With Access, people can build databases from existing templates, input their company data, and query the database for information and insights on the data it holds. Access uses SQL to interact with the data, so knowing SQL is critical for expert-level Access usage.

Microsoft Access databases allow users to store data in one place, and because the information is stored in tables, validating the data is easier than it is in spreadsheets. Users can easily add new records without having to add new fields like they do in a spreadsheet, and there’s no need to update formulas when data is updated. The ability to set validation rules for fields and records makes it easy to keep data high quality, and exporting the data to a spreadsheet is also fairly simple using a macro or VBA module.

Microsoft Access can handle 32,000 records, making it a good choice for some data-heavy organizations. But Access is different from Microsoft Excel — while you can store lists of records in Excel, there are limits, and Excel’s capabilities are far simpler than Access. With Excel, you can sort or filter lists, but with Access, you can work with data, generate reports, validate data, and share data across applications. Access is also better for data that changes over time, as manually updating Excel sheets can lead to errors and be difficult to scale.

Excel and Access do have seamless integration, and even Microsoft recommends using both in complementary ways.

 

Do businesses still use Microsoft Access?

Small personal databases were a big deal in the 1980s and 1990s, when FileMaker and Access were new products (surprisingly, both products are still active). Now that everyone’s been talking about “big data” for nearly ten years, it faces a lot of competition. However, because it is part of the Office 365 suite, which a vast swath of businesses use, it is a convenient, accessible tool for building databases.

Access DBs are stored as files on a hard drive and are easily portable. They can be copied to multiple computers and used independently, or one instance can be shared by multiple concurrent users. They’re much more convenient and easy to administer when compared to a full relational database. Though Microsoft has made SQL Server with a powerful point-and-click user interface, it’s still an order of magnitude more complex than any small business likely needs.

Another nice feature of Access is the user interface component. It’s very easy to build an easy-to-use interface for viewing and searching for data. In fact, many experts build Access-backed interfaces that are indistinguishable from a standalone desktop application.

Example uses of Access include:

  • An inventory of all computers, devices, and IT hardware at a company

  • A very detailed and large customer database

  • Keeping track of products in a warehouse, including locations, serial numbers, etc.

  • Customer invoices and payment tracking

Who needs to know how to use Microsoft Access? 

Access knowledge is valuable for a broad range of professions, including:

  • Sales representatives and leaders looking for buyer insights

  • Data scientists that want to discover or provide analytical information 

  • IT professionals that can help internal end-users understand and troubleshoot Access

  • Developers that want to build and create databases in Access

  • HR teams in large organizations building or searching for data on employees or candidates

How do I learn to use Microsoft Access?

While Access is powerful, it is the most complicated application to use in the Office suite, so getting the proper training is important to success with Access. A Microsoft Access training or certification course will cover the basics from working with table data, querying a database, generating reports, and joining tables to more advanced functions like sharing data across applications, using macros to improve user interface design, and using VBA to enhance tasks.

New Horizons Phoenix offers an ongoing schedule of live Microsoft Access training courses all available online for access anywhere. 

Access is a great tool to have your toolbelt. Tons of small and medium businesses use it all over the world. It’s handy for small projects and doesn’t require SQL expertise. Whether you’re in entry-level IT or you’re a skilled database administrator, Access has its place in the comprehensive set of business tooling.

 

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Author: Ellis Fitch
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