A screen full of code

Microsoft Access vs Web-Based Platforms in CMS Development

David Barlev

October 15, 2020 · 6 minutes

Whether your business is rapidly growing or just growing out of Excel, you’re probably ready to explore the topic of Microsoft Access vs Web-Based platforms in CMS development.

In general, businesses of all sizes have data to manage.

The cleaner—more accurate—the data, the better the business insights. With those insights come better decision-making, and with that, the potential to grow your business exponentially.

However, to manage your business’s data properly, you need the right solution.

And that’s where a good client management system (CMS) comes in. They allow you to better keep track of all the data related to your customers, clients, employees, and vendors. 

Right now, there’s a big debate brewing regarding Microsoft Access vs Web-Based platforms. 

Both have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, when it comes to improving your business’s overall efficiency, there’s one clear winner.

So, let’s dive in.

Microsoft Access vs Web-Based Platforms: Understanding Each Approach

As we’ve mentioned above, Microsoft Access is a data management tool first introduced in 1992. It helps analyze large amounts of information and manage related data more efficiently.

Think of it as a beefed-up version of Microsoft Excel. Microsoft Excel is more or less a flat spreadsheet with a few sorting and filtering options. However, Microsoft Access is a powerhouse upgrade that builds in the concept of relational data. This means data stored and displayed in a way that’s related to each other.

For many small and medium-sized businesses, managing your accounts with Microsoft Excel is almost a rite of passage.

However, as your business continues to grow, Excel quickly becomes unwieldy, slow, and limited in a variety of key instances.

Here are a few examples of these Excel limitations…

  • Data duplication
  • Less security and less control
  • Ripe for errors & inconsistencies
  • The interface creates lower productivity
  • Lack of reporting means fewer insights
  • Etc.

And the list goes on.

A History of Microsoft Access Vs Web-Based Platforms

Where Microsoft Access came to bridge the gap was in its tables, forms, and reporting functions. These forms are non-IT user-friendly, and personalized, shareable, and restricted.

It meant the ability to send your data through an email, have its data edited and sent back to you. And with limited controls on who could see which data to avoid any added clerical errors.

In effect, Microsoft Access was—and in some ways still is—an incredible tool for data management for SMBs.

But it’s not perfect.

And for many businesses looking for fast growth and scalability, Microsoft Access can be a mixed bag that’s neither user-friendly nor cost-effective.

Here’s why…

A laptop screen reflection

Microsoft Access: Strengths and Weaknesses

We’ll start with the strengths.

Microsoft Access: Strengths

For some users getting up and running with Microsoft Access is easy. You don’t need to know how to code, and your data is strictly local. You can also get your business’ database up-and-running pretty quickly.

On its face, the software is pretty robust, too.

You can manage up to hundreds of thousands of data records, and data entry is easy. The software can also find errors and fix them and has great reporting features and tools.

Also, because Microsoft Access is a part of the full Microsoft Office Suite, it works with existing programs like Excel.

This means if you’re using Excel to manage your business’ data, you can easily import it over into Microsoft Access.

Today, many SMBs use Microsoft Access to manage their data. Many of whom enjoy the power and versatility of the software to meet their management needs.

But here’s the problem…

Microsoft Access: Weaknesses

Microsoft Access is dying.

While there are many fans of the software that continue to use it in their day-to-day data management, those numbers are declining year over year.

In fact, in 2018, Microsoft made the decision to officially retire the cloud-based version of the software, demonstrating a conscious lack of faith in its future.

With a growing outcrop of online data management solutions—and the development of custom CMS systems to match a business’s needs—the flaws of Microsoft Access have become quickly apparent among consumers as the data management market continues to expand.

So, what’s the problem?

Well, for starters, it’s slow.

Users commonly report that above 20MB files, entering and maneuvering through the software is painfully time-consuming due to its lengthy load times.

That means you’ll spend more time navigating software meant to improve business efficiency than actually improving your business.

It also means that the core collaborative aspect of a shareable database gets significantly hampered when five or more users enter the same document at once. This sparks significant drops in system performance.

However, one of the biggest issues is the fact that Microsoft Access isn’t dynamic.

Your database should be as adaptable as your business, with the ability to shift and change as needed. 

If you’re a small business (less than 10 people) without many users or data to manage, Microsoft Access can be a great starting database due to its low upfront cost.

However, the moment your business grows beyond that threshold or your database grows larger than 2GB, the software itself will begin to have serious issues in structural stability.

In short, Microsoft Access is terrible with large amounts of users and data, prompting a port to an SQL server as soon as you hit a certain level of growth. Otherwise, you’ll be actively hampering your own efficiency.

And that’s before mentioning the fact that it uses VBA—generally seen as a clunky scripting language.

So, at this point, you’ve got two options:

  • Accept the software’s limitations and deal with it
  • Find an alternative solution

Which leads us to…

What Are Web-Based Platforms?

In database management, web-based platforms can be a number of solutions ranging from free and open-source, SAAS online platforms, or custom CMS development tailor-made to match your needs.

Today, these Microsoft Access alternatives are preferable for growing companies due to their lack of limitations when compared to Access. 

Here’s why…

Web-Based Platforms: Strengths and Weaknesses

Again, we’ll start off with the strengths.

Strengths

To start, flexibility and ease of use. Without getting into the specifics of a given web-based CMS platform, one of the chief benefits of working with an external, cloud-based system is that the learning curve is a lot smaller.

While there are a few vets out there who love the powerful foundation of Microsoft Access, for many others its user-interface is intimidating—particularly among those not already familiar with Excel.

On the other hand, many web-based CMS development platforms are made with the foundations of Microsoft Access in mind but expanding on its inherent limitations with a more user-friendly interface.

This means that getting up to speed on creating and managing your company’s database isn’t just easy, but it’s also more powerful too.

Aside from the benefits of a new and improved system on a web-based development platform, there’s also something to be said about a custom-built client management system of your own design.

One of the biggest issues with Microsoft Access is the fact that it only works best from a limited-use scenario (small business, small data sets, and a small number of users). And that’s without getting into the specific training or instruction needed to draw out the full power of the system.

However, with a custom-built system, dynamic in scalability, and designed with the exact needs of your business in mind, the learning curve is effectively removed. That means you, your employees, and anyone else using the system can draw out its full efficacy without specific knowledge on coding, macros, or other technical aspects.

You’ve also got a greater deal of control regarding who has access to the database, how its information is altered, and how its records are ultimately shared. This provides greater internal security measures than Microsoft Access or other platforms.

And finally, with a custom-built system, you have complete control over the look and feel of the front and backend application, allowing you to personalize and tailor the tool for even greater in-house efficiencies.

Weaknesses

Aside from the added cost, there aren’t many significant weaknesses to web-based database platforms or custom-built client management systems.

Outside of the direct advantages, we mentioned above, the step away from initial database software like Microsoft Access is, in fact, a natural progression for many companies as they begin to scale.

The limitations—largely around size and performance—of Microsoft Access are impossible to ignore once a certain business size is reached.

Microsoft Access vs Web-Based Platforms: The Final Verdict?

It’s time to upgrade to a custom client management system.

If you’re a mom-and-pop shop where growth is generally flat and there are less than ten employees in the system, use Microsoft Access.

For small businesses with limited data, it provides a robust data management system that’s easy to use—with practice—and highly-efficient…at a small scale.

However, if your business is growing, you expect it to grow, or you just want to be proactive in future scalability, your best bet is to build our database with the future in mind.

With a custom-built client management system, you can design your internal database to fit your needs, establish the necessary controls, and create more power and flexibility in your growth.

If you’re ready to scale your business for the future
Click here to schedule a free consultation! 

About David Barlev

David is the Co-founder and CEO of Goji Labs. David loves working closely with passionate founders to understand their vision and help them build beautiful applications while focusing on risk-mitigation. As an author, he focuses on informative and educational blogs that enable our clients to make the most of their businesses.

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