Many of our customers come to us using spreadsheets, word documents, and three-ringed binders to track and manage their important business information. However, these antiquated tools absorb the man-hours needed to perform daily tasks and are prone to data errors and inconsistencies. In addition, the more complex these spreadsheets become, the more they are taxed and the greater the likelihood they could crash in the middle of a project. By modernizing their business processes with a custom database that has an intuitive user interface, Segue provides our customers with tools to easily capture, safely store, and perform complex analysis of their data, analyze data, saving time and money while improving performance and efficiency.
Spreadsheets vs. Databases
Spreadsheets are easy to use, flexible, and inexpensive, which is why they have become the go-to business tool for storing and analyzing data. Even users with very low technical IQs can open up Excel and create a simple spreadsheet, even adding in some colors, formulae, validation, and lookup fields. You can get very simple, very fast with a basic spreadsheet and then take them incrementally further as you learn more of the tricks and features of a tool like MS Excel. Though, as sophisticated as spreadsheets have become, they still have some serious drawbacks. Spreadsheets are not ideal for long-term data storage. They only offer simple query options, do not guard data integrity, and offer little to no protection from data corruption.
A database is conceptionally similar to a spreadsheet. In the simplest terms, a database is a collection of tables, organized in columns and rows, just like a spreadsheet. The big difference is that in a database, each table has a unique set of columns and rows, and different relationships can be made between the different tables. Because databases are relational, you can link related tables to minimize duplication. For example, we have a list of our teaming partners and their points of contact. For most we have multiple contacts for the same partner, which have the same company name, address, phone number, and fax number. In a spreadsheet you’d have to duplicate the company info for each point of contact. In a relational database, you enter the company info once and then link it back to each of the associated or “related” contacts. Databases also have capacity to hold a much greater number of records than a spreadsheet. For instance, the maximum limit for a Microsoft Excel worksheet size is 1,048,576 rows by 16,384 columns, versus a Microsoft Access database table size which can have a maximum of 2 gigabytes.
Do I Need to Upgrade My Database?
When deciding if you should create a database for your project, or transfer your current spreadsheets to a database, here are a few things to consider:
- User Access: The number one reason for creating a database instead of a spreadsheet is if multiple people will need to access the file. Sure, you gave everyone a week to update the spreadsheet, but without fail a group of procrastinators will all try to do their updates in the last 30 minutes before the deadline, resulting in a mass of “file is locked for editing by…” error messages. This sort of traffic jam is prevented in a database because multiple people can make edits simultaneously.
- Scope: A spreadsheet is great for tracking a simple list, but will that list continue to grow and potentially become unmanageable? Databases are better for long-term storage of records that will be subject to changes. Databases have a far greater storage capacity than spreadsheets. If your spreadsheet exceeds 20 columns and/or 100 rows, chances are it would be better for you to use a database.
- Reports/Queries: If you have difficulty querying specific datasets for reports, a database could be the answer. When building a spreadsheet, that data is formatted and arranged to get the desired report when printed. With a database, the data and reporting features are separate, allowing you to generate multiple reports with the same data. For example, management wants to see company-wide sales records by quarter, the program manager only wants to see annual sales for her region, and the marketing department wants to see monthly sales by product type. Instead of maintaining three spreadsheets with customized views of each party, a database would allow you to use advanced queries to generate all three formats from one source – no copy and pasting needed!
- Data Integrity: Duplication of data is another reason for moving away from spreadsheets. Does changing one cell force you to update several others? Do people save independent copies of the spreadsheet, causing duplicate and often outdated versions? In a relational database, data is stored in one place which minimizes redundancy and saves space.
(Source: When Do I Need to Upgrade From My Spreadsheets to a Database? By Nicole Pearson)
Segue Technologies can provide you with a custom solution to modernize your company’s data management and analysis processes. Our requirements analysts will work closely with you and your personnel to understand your business process and data needs. We will analyze your complex spreadsheets and replace them with an efficient system that suits your needs and can expand with your growing business, without a growing pile of paper.