Microsoft Access is the database management tool that is a part of the Microsoft Office suite of products. The program is a part of the Office Professional package and available as a stand-alone program.
At first glance, the Microsoft Office tools may seem to be a ubiquitous part of business software. They are provided on almost all computers in the office. Office and Excel are used many times during the business day. PowerPoint is the used in training and sales presentations. Access is probably less used because its use is not as intuitive and requires more training to use properly than the other programs in the Office suite.
Access, however, deserves a second look. It is a very powerful data management tool. Many of us use spreadsheet programs to manage data columns. Spreadsheets are great tools when used for the correct application but there are times when a spreadsheet is used but a database created in Access would be a better solution. One example of this is using many spreadsheets or pages of spreadsheets to record similar data. Access could reduce the effort required to maintain and integrate this data.
To understand why Access is better, you need to understand some basic concepts of relational databases. A relational database uses the natural relationships between data elements to create a structure that facilitates the use of the data. A simple example of a relationship is customers to orders. You can have many orders for a customer, so a many orders to one customer relationship is defined. If you were tracking orders on a spreadsheet program alone, you may have a spreadsheet that defines each order. Using these stand-alone spreadsheets it would be difficult to compile the orders to know how many orders each customer made. If you add a structure to your database of one order to many parts, reporting on the total of each part ordered by a specific customer over a period of time would be easy to create.
The database behind Access is a relational database that allows these structures to be created and turned into applications that are suitable for departments and small companies. In addition to the database programming in Access there is also the Visual Basic for Application programming language that will allow a more complex application than by using the database structure by itself.
The above reasons are enough to investigate the use of Access but these are not the only reasons to look at Access. Microsoft has integrated Access with its SQL database product. SQL takes Access another step farther. SQL is a server-based product that is designed for multiple users while Access is primarily a single user application. By connecting to a SQL database, Access can create forms and reports from a server-based database. That database is designed to allow multiple users to access different parts of it at the same time and handle those times when two people try to change the same data at the same time.
Using the SQL database interface, professional IT staffs can use Access to develop prototypes for applications. The Access application can be created relatively quickly and can prove the concept for a larger stand-alone database program. The Access application might even be useful long-term for portions of an application that are not data-intensive.
Access is a program that deserves attention in the business environment. It may take more training and application design to use than other members of the Office suite of products, but the applications created may be a better business solution than the ones created in the other Office products.