How To Determine If You Should Use Microsoft Excel Or Microsoft Access


How To Determine If You Should Use Microsoft Excel Or Microsoft Access

Data… data… wherever you go, there’s data. 

The truth is that data has evolved to become a critical component for business survival. But unlike your typical supply and demand rule, the increase in demand for data has not led to a shortage of its supply. The volume of available data has only increased ever since people started using it to optimize their business processes. 

And of course, since there’s lots of data now, the need for efficient data management applications has also multiplied. 

Usually, when we hear the term data management and applications in one sentence, two widely-used programs pop into our heads. One: the ever-famous, classic spreadsheet program called Microsoft Excel, and two: the not-so-popular but valuable nonetheless Microsoft Access. 

Both MS Excel and MS Access are Microsoft products built to help users make the most of their data. Since both applications are related to data in one way or another, it is often confusing for users to decide which one to use. 

Access vs. Excel – Which One Is Best? 

The truth is, both Access and Excel are powerful applications and rule in their domains. Each of these programs has its own strengths and weaknesses. This is why, the decision for which application you should use is not based on which one’s the best. It is based on which application has features that may be most valuable for your use case. 

Access vs. Excel: Strengths and Weaknesses

Excel is spreadsheet software with a little bit of everything. Access, on the other hand, is primarily a database management system. 

With this in mind, let’s talk about some features critical to data analysis and management and see which of the two programs is stronger in what:

Data Analysis

At its core, Access is a data storage and manipulation tool so naturally, it may not have the best data analysis features. This does not mean you cannot analyze your data through Access at all. It’s just that, using Excel, you might be able to do it better. 

Excel is built for complex numeric calculations and analysis. And it does its job well, hence its popularity. 

Among its many features, Excel has a “What-if” feature that helps you analyze the data you have entered to figure out best and worst-case scenarios for any situation, just through a bit of data magic. 

Data Visualization

Despite how valuable it may be, data is extremely boring to look at. People rarely enjoy looking at rows upon rows of numbers. And when you have to present a dataset, slapping a table filled with numbers may not leave the best impression. 

Excel offers greater data visualization capabilities. You can create visually appealing graphs and charts using the data you have entered into the spreadsheet. This is not the same for Access. It does have some visualization powers, but it can’t compete against Excel’s. 


You know how you can color the cells in Excel, make the letters or numbers bold or numeric or underlined, and all of the fancy stuff even if you are using Excel for the first time? Yeah. you can’t do that with Access without understanding Access forms and reports.

Ease of Use 

The last line may have given it away already: Excel takes the lead from Access in terms of ease of use as well. 

Anyone can use at least the basic functions of Excel, without much prior experience and with a little bit of understanding. Even for the more complex functions, hundreds of online resources can teach you in minutes. Access is a different animal altogether. 

You need prior experience and tons of training before you can use and unlock Access’ true potential. As mentioned earlier, you can’t do anything fancy with your Access database without some technical and programming skills. You can’t even define a field (which is one of the first steps) or bold, underline, and color data without a technical understanding of how Access handles and formats data. 

Data entry and management in Access require a lot of preplanning before you can go ahead and set up a database. This is why you need to think differently about your data so you can take the right direction when managing it. 

Data Entry

Before you start doubting this infographic as being biased towards Excel, let’s quickly start talking about some of Access’ strengths that make Excel look like a poor choice for certain use cases. 

As opposed to what many people may think, data entry in Excel can get finicky especially when entering large volumes of data. It may require modifying formulas because the tables aren’t linked and updating the value in one cell will not automatically update the same value in all other relevant tables. 

Access is built on a relational model. This is why it is easier to enter and update data into Access because it updates all of the relevant references once you have changed the value in any one of the table fields and rows. 

Access uses data entry forms and also lets you create modules where you can write VBA codes. This enables automation and expedites the process of updating data, making data entry easier and quicker than it may be in Excel.

Duplicate data is another common challenge in data management and while Excel is equipped to tackle it with its dedupe function, the process is not as straightforward as in Access. The function is complicated and you have to go out of your way to use it. Access, however, has unique identifiers that ensure that no two rows or records contain exactly the same data right from the start. In this way, Access also ensures data integrity, which is another one of its strengths:

Data Integrity

Data loses most if not all of its value if it is tainted with inaccuracy. Unfortunately, Excel, with all its features and functionalities has no way of ensuring data integrity. The data stored in an Excel sheet can be changed since the format and limits are not fixed. This is unlike Access which enforces data types and ranges in a field. Doing this prevents invalid data entry and preserves data integrity. 

Besides having multiple features to ensure data accuracy, Access also lets you enforce your own set of rules to make sure data is not entered incorrectly. Excel has no data validation feature whatsoever which makes it difficult to ensure that the data stored is indeed accurate. 

Data Sharing

This is one feature where Excel and Access both have their strengths. Excel files are easier to share over the internet since they are essentially workbooks containing data. Access, however, is primarily a desktop application. This makes it less ideal for situations that require seamless sharing over the internet. Access is great for sharing among multiple users on a local network, like in an office.  However, sharing data over the internet requires using an additional database like Microsoft SQL Server.


Another area where Access takes the lead over Excel is data sharing between the two programs. Users sometimes need either of the two applications to leverage data from the other one and complete a certain task. Access lets you connect with Excel and import data for further processing but Excel can’t do that. 

Excel can’t connect with Access to get data. So, if you need it to import data from Access to generate pretty-looking reports, Excel won’t be of any help. Access, however, can use Excel spreadsheets as external tables and leverage the data stored in them for further operations.  


Many times it so happens that teams need to work on a database collectively. Access takes the lead in such cases by offering enhanced collaboration. 

Yes, you can collaborate on an Excel file as well but that’s not as good as collaborating in Access. The reason is that Excel does not let you be selective about authorizing access. You can either lock the entire workbook or make all of it accessible. That means collaborators either get the pass to edit all data or none of it. So, only a handful of people can work together when collaborating on an Excel workbook.  

As opposed to that, Access allows you to lock certain records while the rest remain accessible. This makes it easier for multiple users to work on a database without the fear of discrepancies.  

Additionally, Access automatically locks the records that are being worked on. Excel does not have this feature and anyone can tamper with a table, even if it is being edited. This feature makes Excel data vulnerable to inaccuracies. 

Data Storage

Access is a data storage and management platform. Excel helps with calculation and analysis. You can guess which of the two will have stronger data storage capabilities. 

You guessed it! Access. 

Since Access is built for storing and managing data, it can hold large volumes of data without compromising on speed. This is unlike Excel. Excel’s performance can decline with large datasets, leading to slow calculations. So, Excel may not be the best for situations involving large volumes of data. 


Another point in favor of Access. 

Excel does not offer security as robust as Access. While the data in Excel is still secure, it is more vulnerable as compared to an Access database. Microsoft won’t tell you this but Excel has weak encryption features and the data can be breached by unauthorized users easily.

Now you know the features that Excel and Access are powerful in, but the question remains: 

Excel vs. Access… Which Do I Choose? 

Excel and Access are both powerful programs to help you leverage data. However, Excel has strengths that make it a good choice for when you need to do a point-in-time analysis and is not the best when it comes to accumulating and storing data over time. 

Access, on the other hand, has strengths that make it valuable for you if you need easy-to-maintain and accurate data without needing too much in the way of charts and analysis.

In some ways, Excel is like your garage, you can store your stuff there but that’s not what is meant to do well. But you can still get by if you have just a few things to keep. Access is like a warehouse, storing stuff is what it is built for. Yes, you can use it for doing other things, but its primary purpose is to keep your things safe and nice and above all, organized. 

Your business needs data to grow and thrive. But if you are still not sure what application you need to help you get the most out of your data, consider working with data management experts in your vicinity. 

Landau Consulting is a Microsoft Access expert in NJ and helps businesses turn their data into useful information. 

You can reach out to us for assistance with managing your data at or learn more about our services at

Organize your data, unlock its potential, and leverage it to grow your business!