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Spreadsheet vs Database

July 30 2017

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Spreadsheets, Databases and the ‘Get a Mac’ Campaign

Which is better for your business’ data management, a database or a spreadsheet? To help you find out, you might want to think about these two solutions in these terms: which is a Mac, and which is a PC?

The old ‘Get a Mac’ campaign highlighted the differences between Apple Macintosh and Microsoft computers in a humorous and clearly biased way. The two computers were portrayed by actors: PC as bumbling and inept, old-fashioned and clueless; Mac as smart, stylish, effortlessly accomplished and modern. But the campaign was successful because it cleverly latched onto the things that Mac’s target market valued in a computer.

Similarly, people and businesses want certain things out of their data management systems. But it can be easy to get used to a way of doing things, particularly if that’s the way you’ve always done it, and often the way your competitors do it. Microsoft had a head start on Apple, so Apple had to win over people and businesses who would benefit more from using their computers.

What if the same is true of spreadsheets? Businesses often use spreadsheets not just for specific projects but to store and analyse most, if not all, of the data they have. It can be a fairly simple and quick fix to deal with the necessary accumulation, processing and maintenance of data about all aspects of business from customers to stock to finances. Businesses need this information in order to keep on top of their activities. But databases are also used for the task, so would it be worth changing from a spreadsheet to a database?

Spreadsheet Vs Database

If your company’s spreadsheet would be a person, what kind of a person would they be? Would they be slow or fast, meticulous or patchy? Easy to get along with or endlessly annoying? How about databases?

Your image of the relative attributes of both should be informed by an understanding of how the two systems work. Spreadsheets work in a very specific way, storing data values in cells arranged in rows and columns. These cells can refer to each other using formulae in order to help process data. Databases on the other hand typically store data in tables, which may have multiple rows and columns and can relate to other tables. This way of storing and processing data can allow more flexibility and freedom when it comes to designing a database.

Spreadsheets are designed to process relatively small amounts of data, rather than store or process large amounts of data. Spreadsheets can also take up a lot of memory when dealing with a lot of data for this reason. Databases are better suited to large tasks, both in terms of storage and processing. They also offer a greater range of forms of data manipulation, making them better suited for complex analysis than spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets are also not good at talking to multiple people at a time. Only one person can access and change a spreadsheet at any one time, meaning that for multiple people to work on a spreadsheet at once they each need their own copy. But then each copy has to be harmonised at the end and this quickly becomes complicated. Databases however can support multiple users at any one time.

Conclusion: Get a Database

So in conclusion, spreadsheets are better for small and specific tasks, having a fairly rigid structure and narrow parameters, and can only deal with one person at a time. Databases are more flexible, designed for large amounts of data and complex tasks, and can be used by multiple people simultaneously. Regardless of whether you prefer Mac’s or PCs, there is clearly a place for both spreadsheets and databases in a business: spreadsheets are for analysing small amounts of data while databases are better suited to managing your business’ overall data requirements.

Wirebox work with a number of database management systems and have worked with companies to deliver the database to meet their business needs. We can also update your existing database and help you manage the transition from spreadsheet to database. Let us know what we can do for you by contacting us to discuss the database system for you.