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excel vs access

Not all businesses are sure when it’s time to move to a database. Excel is a useful spreadsheet program that can meet the needs of many small businesses. Yet as their business grows, or they want more capabilities, it makes sense to jump to a database such as MS Access.

So how do you know what’s right for your business and when it’s time to make the switch? The truth is that you should probably be using Excel and Access together, rather than replacing one with the other.

Let’s start by discussing the basic tasks that Excel and Access are used for, and how you know when it’s time to upgrade to a database.

What is Each Tool Used For?

Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet tool used for the following tasks:

  • Data analysis
  • Calculations, statistical comparisons
  • Chart management
  • Generate shareable output

Microsoft Access is a database tool used for the following tasks:

  • Data management
  • Display data subsets, complex queries
  • Reports for data summarization
  • Automation for common events
  • Database used by multiple users

In short, Excel is for analyzing data, whereas Access is for managing data.

How Do I Know When it’s Time to Add Access?

If you’re currently using Excel, you realize the potential that this spreadsheet software offers. It effectively analyzes numerical data and is relatively easy to learn. The newest versions also come packed with plenty of templates and shortcuts to make your job easier.

However, when you need to manage hundreds or thousands of spreadsheets, Excel cracks under the pressure. It becomes increasingly difficult to manage data and update your formulas. If you are having difficulties managing your spreadsheets, this is a sure sign that you need a larger and more comprehensive database.

The benefit to Access is that it provides a storage solution for data that needs to be pulled up and analyzed across different locations. You can access these records at any time and make the appropriate changes. Since each record is given an ID, you can sort, filter and query your databases based on your goals.


As Excel becomes overloaded with spreadsheets and you find it more difficult to maintain and update your data, it’s a clear sign that you are ready to move to Access. But don’t throw in the towel with Excel. You can import Access into Excel and vice versa and enjoy the best of both worlds.