Access has a lot of haters, everyone from techies to IT departments seems to loathe this versatile program. While I understand the reasons for this, I believe this hatred to be largely unjustified when it is used correctly.
I have used Microsoft Access for about 15 years. When I started working in higher education, the department had a database they used to process applications to their courses. I hadn’t really used Access much,but I knew the principles of database design from my degree course. After spending a few weeks using the database, I started fiddling with it to try and improve it. Partly out of a desire to make it better, but also to try and reduce the time I was spending on monotonous data entry tasks. Over time, I learnt more about this application, and got to the point of being able to code VBA into it and make it perform quite complex tasks. I admit that I fell in love with it, and I wanted to give you a few reasons why I think it can be a useful part of an organisation’s toolkit.
- Access allows non-developers to create database applications with front ends that can improve their usability. People create spreadsheets in Excel to store organisational data, some of which would be better done in Access – it allows for multi-user access but still at a low cost.
- If you have an idea for a new piece of software, Access can help you to quickly create a prototype version so you can see how it will work – I have done this a few times now.
- Most IT departments will not bother creating the sort of small-scale applications that are perfect for Access, but these are still needed by users. Empowering them to create these for themselves means they learn more about application development – always a useful skill to acquire.
- I have known IT departments that try to ban Access in their organisations. This does not make the problem go away though, the problems people need to solve are still there, users will just try other solutions instead. Just because something has been built in Access doesn’t mean it is built badly – bad software has been created in just about every language there is.
So if Access isn’t going anywhere in our organisations, why don’t IT departments embrace it? With a bit of support and training, users would create better databases that will help them do their jobs. Being aware of what has been developed might spur new developments at an institutional level – if a database has been done well, and serves a purpose, why not translate it to a more permanent solution. Banning it doesn’t really work – unless the organisation is willing to build applications for every small use that the users have – unlikely in these economically strained times.
To sum up, Access isn’t all bad. It can serve a useful purpose in any size of organisation, but only if accepted by IT departments – they still don’t have to like it, but supporting it is probably the wisest choice.