The Time, Place and Case for Microsoft Access

In a world of truly unlimited possibility, there would be no need at all for Microsoft Access. Just about everything it does is done in a cumbersome way which makes expansion tricky. However, in the real world, where “IT” (rightly or wrongly) treat their users with fear and/or suspicion, Access is often the best tool available to complete a task, especially when compared to data processing using Excel.


It never ceases to amaze me how many businesses waste the hours of Business Information Managers or Accountants preparing regular reports. A few years ago I was invited to spend some time working with the BIM of a large insurance company; at the time a whole day of his was spent analysing the complete output of their policy system (including *all policies* since the company had begun operating). I watched with horror as he loaded the previous week’s output in to one sheet in Excel (then waited as Excel tried to make sense of the enormous amount of data), then added this week’s in to another (which of course took even longer), then ran a series of lookups, vlookups, and countless filters before putting the figures in to a report and manually comparing it to the previous report to confirm he hadn’t made any errors.


The BIM had wasted months trying to liase with “IT” (in his case, “IT” was normally a group based in one of the parent company’s offices, some 80 miles away; but equally “IT” could mean the other parent company who’s IT operations were centralised in Spain), in a vein attempt to gain meaningful access to the actual databases which were chucking out these output files. By the time I’d been invited, it had become apparent to him that there was no chance of that happening. This failure of “IT” to actually provide information in a meaningful form is unfortunately common.


Understandably, data normally has to remain in a designated area on a secure network. That means without the co-operation of an IT department (or the open availability of a suitable Database Server, not something I have yet encountered) doing stuff ‘properly’ using a server is out of the question. This is where Access comes in to it’s own. It’s very rarely the best possible solution, nor the most elegant, nor the most efficient, but it’s certainly capable and thanks to it’s position in the Microsoft Office suite, often the only available tool.


If you’re spending ages assembling routine reports, give us a call. All the systems we’ve worked on have been 4-figure investments;  which in every case our clients report to us will pay for itself in man hours very quickly. If you (or your staff) are spending hours upon hours every day, week or even month compiling reports, talk to us.