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» Why Excel is Not a Proper Database Tool

June 7th, 2013

In the 6+ years I’ve been working with businesses to help them implement database systems, I’ve seen many scenarios of what they’re currently using to track key business information.  One scenario that probably makes up the majority is a company using various Excel spreadsheets to track this information – whether it be prospecting, clients, contacts, project management, etc.

While Excel is a great and powerful tool for many things, what it is NOT is a robust database solution!  Yes, you can sort and filter your data to view the information you need at the moment.  But you cannot build upon that information as easily as you can with a proper database system.  And here’s the top 5 reasons why you shouldn’t use Excel as your database tool.

  1. Excel does not connect your data tables to one another automatically.  In a database system, you can connect your tables in a way that allow you to enter one piece of information once, and let it flow down to other records.  For example, a Company record can be entered once, and then you can add multiple Contacts that are tied to that Company.  This eliminates the need to enter the address, phone number, website URL, etc. more than once.  In Excel, if you want a complete list to report on, you must enter that information for each row that includes that Company.
  2. Excel does not handle one-to-many relationships well.  First, let me explain what a one-to-many relationship is.  Say you have a contact and you want to add Notes for that contact each time you have an interaction with him/her.  The contact (one) now has Notes (many) that must be stored.  To do this in Excel, just like the Company-Contact scenario in #1  above, you’d have to replicate the basic Contact information for each row you have a Note for the contact.  In a proper database system, you simply go to the Contact’s record and add a note.  The system will automatically enter a new note each time and store it under the Contact’s record for future use. 
  3. Inconsistent Data.  I had a client once use a different spreadsheet for each of the stages of the business – prospects, clients, etc.  They were copying and pasting data (or re-entering it manually) when a company went from a prospect to a client.  Then they had to update other information in different spots (and remember which spots these were each time!).  Then they switched to a database system and this information seamlessly flowed simply by changing one field from Prospect to Client!  That not only saved them a ton of time in data entry, but also in report generation!  It also cut down on the time spent in meetings discussing the changes from week to week.  Everyone could see the changes being made as they happened, and did not need to wait for the weekly spreadsheet to be circulated! 
  4. Workflow. Database systems can be set up to handle all sorts of business rules and processes to create a workflow for how you enter information, what triggers get pushed to you (an automatic email, a report sent to you weekly, etc.).  Excel can have automation built into it, but it is a lot more time-consuming and costly to build this in Excel than it is in a database system. 
  5. Visual Appeal.  The more pieces of information you need to track in an Excel spreadsheet, the more columns you need to add.  With a database system, you can lay out the screen in a way that you do not need to scroll from left to right (although many times you will need to scroll up and down) in order to enter all of the information.  By the time you scroll to the right, you’ve forgotten what information was already entered and have to go back to look.  This not only wastes time, but is not a very efficient way to work each day.

These are just 5 of the key reasons why Excel is not a database tool.  We can come up with tons more, but I think you get the point.  If your company is using Excel spreadsheets to manage its operations and key business information, give us a call and we can discuss with you ways to move that information to a more manageable database system that will save you time, money and allow your company to grow because of it!

We’d love to hear your stories – good or bad – with using Excel or moving to a database system.  Feel free to comment on this blog post.

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