Computer with xls and mdb files illustrated w/post name

4 Reasons to Drop Excel or Access & What to Do Instead

Excel and Access are two popular programs many small to medium-size businesses use to store and try to organize data. While both apps were not designed for enterprise data storage and organization, their popularity has given a false sense of being a secure way to keep your business data. 

This post will highlight four of the most significant issues with Excel and Access use for small businesses. We will also cover the steps to migrate to a secure and efficient data warehouse and the benefits of moving your data where it belongs.

4 Issues with Excel and Access for Business Use

Security

Security and data protection are at the top of every CTO’s and CIO’s priority list. According to Security Today, in 2018, data breaches cost companies $3.86 million with $148 cost per record stolen. Vulnerabilities have become more and more sophisticated as we build new security measures.

Excel and Access use for business put your files and data at risk with little obstacles to keep your spreadsheets and databases safe. One downfall with both applications are files are often created by those with little security training. The lack of permission setting leaves data open for manipulation and theft. 

Another common issue can be that files get saved to local machines or network shares with no encryption, passwords, and again improper permissions set. Files saved to a computer leave data open to social engineering and theft of the device. With larger organizations, devices being networked can leave files open to vulnerability through network breaches or a RAT (Remote Access Tool) through malware and phishing schemes. 

Integrity

Data integrity can cost your organization through lost or manipulated data. Malicious and non-malicious activities can corrupt the integrity of your files and data. Improper permissions to read and write applied to files and databases has the potential to give anyone who has access to the records the ability to change, delete, or move the file. These modifications of data can occur intentionally or unintentionally.

If multiple people utilize a file with the wrong permissions set, the chance of your file and data integrity being compromised dramatically increases. One example is in accounting. Excel is used by many businesses still to keep accounting records due to the functionality. With multiple people having access to an accounting spreadsheet, the chance of accidental data manipulation can lead to a grossly inaccurate income statement at the end of your reporting period.

Inventory control is another standard excel and access use. The manipulation of inventory to hide shrink with employee or vendor theft is commonly used. Inventory numbers can be changed when less stock is received or stolen. Loss can lead to an audit with hundreds of thousands of dollars written off due to inventory not being correctly cataloged.

Visibility

Visibility is vital in business operations. As we all know, executives need the information to make decisions for the company. Excel and Access can create obstacles to the visibility of the data necessary to make these decisions.

Both apps lack a centralized database as well as dashboards that can give decision-makers the ability to view or create reports with company data. Companies that used spreadsheets over decades can have thousands or even hundreds of thousands of rows to sort through to find critical data.

One issue with visibility using Excel and Access is files created will get stored to a local machine, which prevents transparency through the organization. The people that need the data may not have access to those files. Even if they have access, they may not be able to find the computer these files are on. Inaccessibility costs in time and money and can hinder essential decisions from being made.

Scalability

Data is a new commodity in every industry. Companies are collecting, analyzing, using, and even selling data at record rates. Traditional data entry into spreadsheets and Access databases will not keep your company competitive in your market. 

Excel and Access are not suitable for anything beyond personal use and at most a small 1 or 2 person business. Spreadsheets lack the structural hierarchy and query capabilities to handle the rapid scaling of data collection to run your company.

Large volumes of data collection need an interface with CRUD capabilities and even better, automated entry. Databases specialize in collecting, sorting, and retrieving data this way. Excel and Access can’t scale to the level needed by an organization beyond a few people.

Migrating to a Better Solution

A solution to improving security, data integrity, visibility, and scalability is migrating to a database solution designed for enterprise use. Utilizing a custom-built data application or an out-of-the-box suite will improve your company’s overall process and efficiency with data collection and reporting. 

Below are four steps to migrating from Excel or Access to a data solution made for business.

Catalog

Cataloging what data and files are saved and stored in both apps is the first step to migration. Data and files need to get organized to continue with the next steps for migration. When cataloging, several factors that need considering:

  • What is the stored data associated with each file?
  • Who uses the data cataloged?
  • What is the use of each category of data? 
  • What is the value of each file? 

Sort and filter the data to match these criteria and determine what data needs to get migrated, what can stay as is (if any), and what can be deleted and removed.

Prioritize

The next step in migration is to prioritize the cataloged data. Once files and data are categorized, assign each one a priority for migration. Determine what data has the highest priority based on security, visibility, or other importance to your company.

You will also need to prioritize based on dependency on other files. For example, sales and accounts receivable often have shared data from invoicing sales orders. Assembly and the supply chain share inventory data, which then may go to purchasing. Knowing how data works throughout departments will help when designing data warehouses.

Another priority is what data may come from external sources into spreadsheets and Access. Vendors may input data into Access for visits or sales calls. Visitors may get logged into a spreadsheet at the front door of your company. There are countless ways data is imported into Excel and Access that need to get prioritized to optimize migration.

Warehouse

Building your data warehouse is the next step in migration. There are a few different ways and languages you can use to create a warehouse. Using best practices is a must when designing, building, and implementing a data warehouse, and it may be best to hire a qualified partner to augment your IT team.

When choosing the best data warehouse platform, consider how and where data is accessed and what apps may be connected. Your company fully controls physical servers. They take space and IT resources, but all aspects are in your control. Cloud warehousing keeps IT resources and space within your real estate free. The provider provides maintenance and some level of security. You lose some control for the benefit you gain. Hybrid approaches allow for partial data warehousing on-premises and a portion in the cloud.

The ultimate goal of building your data warehouse is the ability to organize your data within the structure. Traditional SQL-based databases use tables to store and organize data.  Tables typically relate to each other with keys and efficiency is promoted through the use of indexes on commonly queried fields. No-SQL databases, which have become more popular lately, store data in unstructured ways that can still be queried effectively.

Dashboard/UI

Once your data migrates into the warehouse, the next step is to build a dashboard or UI that has access and security features limiting functions to users dependant on your company’s needs. Some services will integrate, including SQL Server reporting and Microsoft’s Access UI.

CRUD capabilities are needed to allow users to create data, query, and read data from the warehouse, update data where required, and delete data from the warehouse. With spreadsheets entering data required you to find the next row, add what was needed, and delete after you found the data you wanted to delete. With data warehouses and dashboards, the backend does the hard work for you.

While you can buy an integrated dashboard, custom dashboards can give you a little extra in functionality. You need custom forms to create and update data. Reporting is vital for the visibility of data. Reports can now be created and accessed easily online. Dashboards are more secure than spreadsheets and Access, allowing the warehouse manager to adjust settings for access and permissions for data manipulation.

Benefits of Migrating to a Data Solution from Excel and Access

Security

Data warehouses make your data a lot harder to steal and a lot less vulnerable than spreadsheets and Access. Sensitive data can be secured with encryption to keep it protected. 

The dashboard will get built with the ability to limit permissions and access to what data can be manipulated and by who. Limited access will keep your data less vulnerable to theft. The ability to create reports keeps those who need the data but not the functionality from accessing the data.

Integrity

Data integrity is a priority. Spreadsheets are vulnerable to both malicious and accidental data corruption. When you migrate, the dashboard creates another level of protection to keep data integrity. 

Limited access and CRUD permissions help limit who can manipulate data. Safeguards can be used as well, such as verification for updating data. Notifications to a warehouse or IT manager can alert them to changes in the data or who accessed the databases.

Visibility

Migrating from spreadsheets to a data warehouse allows you visibility to your data. Files and Access databases will no longer get stored on one computer where there is limited knowledge of it and access. Stakeholders can access dashboards to see real-time data. The creation of customized reports online as needed is another benefit with warehouse visibility.

The visibility also helps with security. With custom reports, your IT can see all access and changes to data in the warehouse. Reports can help find potential breaches or data manipulation. Reporting and visibility help keep your data’s integrity reliable.

Scalability

Data warehousing allows you to scale your data capabilities as your company grows. With proper planning and enough IT resources, your storage capabilities can be virtually unlimited. Cloud storage allows a pay-as-you-go model eliminating the need to plan your physical capabilities and creating even more realistic unlimited storage.  

Conclusion:

If you use Access or Excel in unintended ways, it’s time to move to a better solution. Data warehousing creates a more secure and visible platform while keeping your data integrity while your business scales. 

Are you fully staffed for your 2020 IT Projects? If not let’s have a conversation. Covey specializes in 100% U.S. based commercial and government software staff augmentation to get your projects done. We work with AWS, SaaS development, custom software, blockchain, agile methods, and DevOps implementation. Email us or give us a call at 315-738-6016 to learn how we can help your business or agency.