Pros and cons of Microsoft Access
Microsoft Access is one of the lesser-known Microsoft 365 applications. While it may be overshadowed by its more familiar relatives like MS Word, Excel, Outlook and even PowerPoint, Access is a very useful and powerful tool that can be leveraged to solve a variety of problems.
MS Access is a database management system that combines:
- a relational database engine,
- a graphical user interface,
- a reporting tool,
- macro capabilities,
- and a software development language (VBA)
to provide a user-friendly Rapid Application Development (RAD) environment. While Access’ ease of use, versatility and power can be an asset to those looking to develop software to address business issues (e.g. process improvement or process automation), it’s not ideal in all situations.
Here are some pros and cons of MS Access to help you decide if Access makes sense for your scenario.
Pros of MS Access
When shown what Access can do, most users are amazed at the capabilities, ease of use, and complexity of the programs that can be developed using it. Using MS Access database templates, form wizards, and macros can enable applications to be built in days, rather than months.
An extremely versatile system, Access can be leveraged for a variety of use cases, such as:
- simple office inventory,
- custom CRM,
- sales order management,
- advanced multi-user ERP database applications.
Flexible data storage
By default, MS Access stores data in its proprietary file format, but it offers the flexibility to attach to a wide variety of data sources, such as:
- Microsoft SQL Server.
- Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets
- XML, TXT and CSV files
- Dbase databases
- Outlook data files
In general, any data source that is available via ODBC connection can be accessed with MS Access.
Complete application development
Full-featured applications often require different tools for:
- Database design and development (database tables, queries, etc.)
- User Interface or UI design
- Reporting System
Access offers developers and users alike a single solution to develop the full function set of an application.
Multiple programming options
Macros: For novice users, Access offers a drag-and-drop interface that allows the user to quickly add functionality to an application with no coding.
Visual Basic for Applications: As with other Microsoft Office applications, Access harnesses the power of Visual Basic for Applications for more advanced program development.
Cons of MS Access
While Access is a very powerful and versatile tool, it’s not the answer for all applications.
As the scale and complexity of an application grows, or its requirements expand beyond the limits of Access’ capabilities, other system architectures or platforms may be required. Some of the reasons that MS Access may not be the best option include:
Database: MS Access Database files are limited to 2GB. As you increase your users and accumulate more data, you may outgrow MS Access.
Users / Performance: Microsoft Access is a desktop tool and as a result can’t be horizontally scaled across multiple servers and throttled to handle heavy load times like modern cloud-based web applications can.
Unlike modern web applications that are accessible from just about anywhere, MS Access requires VPN or RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) connections to use them.
Alternatives to Microsoft Access
Access is a robust development tool that offers a variety of built-in capabilities that in many cases can be addressed with their own individual solution. As a result, the alternatives to Access are almost unlimited, as different database, UI, programming languages and reporting tools are layered into an application.
A few example alternatives:
Mobile responsive customer portal
A web portal offering data accessibility via desktop or mobile device employing a services-oriented architecture to allow for easier third-party software integration:
- Database MS SQL or MySQL
- Business Logic / Backend: C#.Net API
- Front End: React.JS, Blazer or Angular
- Hosting: Azure or AWS
On-Prem Operations MVC App
A mission-critical business application run on an in-house web server used to perform daily business tasks by the staff of a growing nationwide organization:
- Database: MS SQL or MySQL
- Architecture: MVC (Model-View-Controller)
- Reporting Platform: Crystal Reports
Data Warehouse Driven BI Dashboard
Quasi-real-time management reporting tool displaying sales, production, inventory and accounting metrics across the company for a variety of regions, departments and dates.
- Database: Azure SQL Service
- Reporting Platform: PowerBI
Access is one of the lesser-known applications in the Office suite of applications. As a result, many users overlook its capabilities and try to use the more popular MS Excel as a means of collecting, storing and reporting on data.
While Excel is a very powerful tool for data manipulation, it is more times than not improperly forced to act as a database system rather than a spreadsheet application. In other words, Excel should not be utilized as an alternative to Access.