Bespoke database Web Apps / Applications and Software

Bespoke Database Applications

Spreadsheet vs Database - is your spreadsheet becoming an issue?

Sounds a bit like a bad Marvel film, but actually it's a serious question.  It's pretty difficult to compare a spreadsheet to a database as these are two completely different pieces of software with their own functions and features.  However, many people get so familiar with their spreadsheet package that work evolves around it and they grow into storing and manipulating data with it when actually they may be better deploying a database solution.

Spreadsheets are brilliant

Spreadsheets are brilliant and are the best way of quickly manipulating data, recalculating and generating limitless charts and new formatting for display.  The platforms are flexible and relatively cheap.  Spreadsheets also have access to some great functions to help make calculations easier and provide pivot tables to arrange linked data.

Spreadsheets also have their drawbacks! For long term data storage they are prone to being lost, deleted or changed.  Whilst a spreadsheet can be used by multiple people access is limited and thought needs to be given to storage.  As more people interact with the data this becomes a real issue, it's not really scalable. The spreadsheet has some filtering and sorting options and simple queries but doesn't allow for powerful database type searches.  The data held in spreadsheets is easily changed by anyone and hence the data integrity cannot be maintained.  So, as a long term solution that requires multiple people to access the stored data and for the data to be of a consistent quality, spreadsheets may not be the best solution.

Sometimes you just need something more

Enter the database.  I am not referring here to a local database stored on something like MS Access but rather a relational database machine which has software wrapped around it to support SQL (structured query language). These databases are designed for storing and processing large amounts of data quickly. Millions of websites around the world depend on SQL databases to function, it is at the heart of online shopping and the good news is that the open source version is free (MySQL).

Whilst you can just use an SQL database and type in queries, this will be too technical and cumbersome for most and the output is normally not user friendly.  When you combine the powerful database with a freely available programming language you can build some very well structured applications which are perfectly suited to your business needs.

SQL Databases are designed to be scalable, they can grow and accommodate very large amounts of traffic for multiple access requests.  They have been around for a long time and are secure (providing you protect passwords). The database will sit on a server somewhere in the cloud or in your organisation and is hence easy to backup on a regular basis.

Having one source for your data eliminates the potential for multiple copies to exist and the loss of integrity that follows.  It is also harder to simply email the data out of the business which is often a security risk.

Adding more power to your Database

Databases with applications wrapped around them using open web based software means that you can access the data from any type of machine, all you need is a web browser.  You could even use a tablet or smartphone. If your data is stored in the cloud you will also benefit from having the data accessible from remote locations, really freeing your data from the spreadsheet.

You will need access control to your data, this will be programmed in.  However, this also allows you to specify different levels of authority for people using the data, i.e. Who is allowed to see and change what data.  This also provides the ability to log and track who accesses and changes the data for auditing purposes.

Questions to ask

The things to lookout for when using your spreadsheets to keep track of data are:

  • Is the data being used as part of a longer term business process?
  • Does my spreadsheet have more than 20 columns and 100 rows?
  • Do multiple people need to access the data
  • Are people often waiting for data from a spreadsheet owner
  • Will a loss or corruption of your data have a big impact on your business

If you answered yes to any of the above questions I would love to talk to you about how a database web based solution could deliver some benefits for you and your business.

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Blog Author

Mark Carver, Director of Activ-STEP  has over 25 years of technology marketing experience,  with the last 14 years running his own successful technology marketing agency.  Mark prides himself on his attention to detail and the ability to deliver projects to cost and time pressures.  Mark has completed numerous projects over the past 14 years, whilst at Activ-STEP.  Clients have benefitted from his strategic perspective to marketing as well as an excellent understanding of technology and how it can be applied.

Mark is now using his skills to build web based database applications to help businesses improve their data security, accessability, communication and efficiency.  Mark has built numerous websites and associated applications which have taken the data from a spreadsheet and built a web based apps.

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