Tech & AI

Should You Use a Database or a Spreadsheet?

Posted 11 July 2016 | BY Sansan

While spreadsheets were popular in the early days of computing, sophisticated databases that are much better equipped to manage large amounts of data have emerged following the big data revolution.

Such databases take over where spreadsheets fail to meet the needs of modern organisations by supporting multiple users, reducing data duplication, providing better data retrieval, increasing productivity and providing high-level customisation.

Here are five reasons why you should consider using a database over a spreadsheet.

1. Multiple user support

Spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel typically only allows one user at a time. So if you try to open a spreadsheet while another team member is using it, you’ll likely be locked out. While you can open a read-only version or ‘save as’ to create a duplicate to work on, this risks your data integrity, as confusion sets in about which version holds the latest data.

Databases solve this problem by allowing multiple users to access the data simultaneously. They have the added advantage of allowing restricted access to certain parts of the database, so that the information can remain secure.

2. Reduction of duplicate data

Most spreadsheets don’t prevent data duplication. For example, a spreadsheet allows one to enter two different addresses for a customer in a single cell with no indication which is the current or preferred address. Databases can be configured to prevent this type of data duplication by allowing only one data set per field.

3. Better data retrieval

While spreadsheets are good for creating simple graphs and charts from basic data sets listed on individual worksheets, databases offer much deeper data retrieval to generate more complex, customised reports through comprehensive data querying. That means you can use a database to mine all the information that’s relevant for a given report, and are not limited to the data that’s included on a specific worksheet.

4. Increased productivity through automation

Many database solutions offer automation functionality that eliminates the need for manual data entry. For example, when software testing business Q’s Co. launched in 2012, it used Excel spreadsheets to record prospect contact details from business cards the sales team collected at industry events. However, when the company switched to Sansan’s automated business card management system, which builds a client database when cards are merely scanned, the company saw sales increase fivefold.

5. Customisable formats

Perhaps the best thing about databases is their ability to be tailored to your organisational needs. Developers can build customised software applications on top of databases that give your team the data access they need, and empower them to use it in any way required. This could include analysing data to create forecasts, accessing databases remotely from their smartphones or generating reports that offer key insights into how your business is performing.

While spreadsheets are fine for basic data entry, databases provide much more sophisticated data management. They support multiple users while protecting data integrity, reducing data duplication, offering superior data retrieval to generate detailed reports, automating processes and using customisable software to meet your specific business goals and challenges.