Is Microsoft Office – Excel a viable Database?

Microsoft Office Excel as a DatabaseMicrosoft Office Excel from the Microsoft Office product suite, is a brilliant tool for assessing, calculation and “what if” scenarios, which is easy to use, taught in almost all schools from primary school up, and commonly available.  But, how good is it as a database.

One of the greatest advantages of Excel, is its ease of use.  So if you need to gather a list of names and addresses, do a mail merge, or auto Email.  You can do this very easily with Excel.

One of the other advantages of Excel, is that it has a Visual Basic Application programming available within it.  This means, that a budding programmer, can use Excel and write code for it, to do a range of simple functions.  This this image is of Excel being used to invoice from.

So if Excel can do all these great things – why do people not use it for everything?

I will explain this in terms of a motor vehicle.

If you needed to run about town each day, you would probably invest in a car suitable for that function, maybe a small economical 4 cylinder car, that was easy to drive, park, and designed for short stint driving.  So If you now needed to tow a heavy trailer for a long drive, even if you could begin to tow in this car, you would probably end up damaging the car and it would stop.

So now, putting this in Microsoft Office Excel terms.

When too many people need to use the same spreadsheet and put too much data in the spreadsheet, it will crash, lock, and sometimes no longer open.

As a programmer, this is regular reason for companies contacting Accede Holdings Pty Ltd.  They have already worked out everything they want, but the spreadsheet will just no longer work.

What Signs Show that the Excels data or usage is getting too much?

  • Locked file
  • Very slow
  • Cant Edit
  • See Odd Symbols
  • Sudden file size jumps

Is there a physical size limited that Microsoft recommends?

This is dependent on your own PC, its operating system and the version of Microsoft Office Excel you are using.  With that stated if you find your Spreadsheet is getting slow, then it really is time to look at solutions.

  • Possible Solutions
  • Reduce the size of your Excel Spreadsheet
  • See if there is a standard product that will do what you are trying to do in Excel, and if so, try it out and use it.
  • Question, if you are using the right tool.  For example, I have seen electricians using wood chisels to chase plaster in brick work, and they have totally ruined the edge of the chisel.  A wood Chisel is designed for wood.  The same goes with Excel and Databases.

When is using Excel as a database a good idea?

If you are trying to work out – what you want or need, and can use Excel well, then use this to work out your needs. Caution however if you wish to keep using this as a database for a business.

The reason for my caution is simple.

  • Corruption or loss of data
  • Less productivity from your staff
  • Limitations on what you can actually do – automatically
  • Not the right tool for the job.

I would equally caution you on creating a database, that you just don’t know what you need.  This is one of the main reasons that databases fail.  One of the main reasons databases do not achieve budget in time or money, is due to what programmers refer to as scope creep.  In the building trade this is known as a variation to contract.

So what are the steps to take if you have a great Microsoft Office Excel product – you are seeing some signs, or should consider using the right tool for the job:

  • Get a fixed quote including delivery time and cost to take the Excel spreadsheet you have, and for an IT professional to transfer this to product e.g. a database. Make sure they include in the quote the transfer of your current data.  An average cost could be as low as $500 or as high as $15,000. There really is no average, as excel is used in so many ways.
  • Look for products that could do this job for you – that are off the shelf
  • Look at what your competition is using to do the same job you are doing on Excel. Why did you need to create your Excel?

What to really avoid.

One of the most profitable areas for an IT company, is to fix a problem when the need is desperate.  This is because no quote is needed, and an IT company can simple charge the highest rates on an hourly basis.

Another trap I have had to ‘rescue’ businesses from, is when a spreadsheet is doing a great job and has for years.  Then the person that created it leaves, you upgrade something – and all of a sudden – nothing works.  Once again, this always happens at the wrong time, and it is always an emergency.

If you have invested the time to read this blog, you are probably using an Excel spreadsheet in the wrong way, and it is probably time, to look at the right solution.  Realize it is the businesses job to supply the tools to do the job, and it is the employees function to fulfill the job.  But if the tool is not right, one way or another – this will cost the business, either in productivity, loss of staff or loss of business.



Excel is not designed to be a base holding area for Data – therefore if being used for this, you are using the wrong tool.  Excel really designed for number calculating, and it offers many features.  Excel is a great complement to a database.

So in answer to my initial question – Is Excel a Viable database?

The answer is that Microsoft Excel is not a database at all – in the tradition sense, but it is often used as a database, due to its ease for users.  Excel is an excellent complementary product to a database, as is Word, photo viewers, outlook, and other Microsoft Office products.   It is common for database products to integrate with other applications, especially those in the Microsoft Office product range. Excel can be used as a database, but only to a very limited usage.




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