Wednesday 14 January 2015

I'll Build a Spreadsheet for That!

Whenever a job needs doing, or you want to measure or monitor something, the trusty spreadsheet appears.  Someone says brightly “I’ll build a spreadsheet for that!”  Without too much thought heads are nodded, people disappear with the warm glow of a job well done.

Sometimes the spreadsheet is built, but not always.  If the spreadsheet is built, sometimes it does the job, but often it doesn’t.  Perhaps more importantly, though, it may not meet everyone’s needs.  Then, instead of going back to the drawing board, multiple spreadsheets start appearing.  Excel is quick, easy, and doesn’t require any expert knowledge, so everyone mucks in to solve their own particular problem.  And therein lies its undoing.

Having said all of the above, Excel is a great tool, which we all use a lot for all sorts of useful things.  I’m sure I couldn’t live without it.  But it’s not suitable for everything.  Sometimes it takes a database like Microsoft SQL Server to make sure the job is done properly.  Here’s why:

  1. No one can build a database without discussing and consulting other people about what’s needed.  Even the simplest databases take thought, planning and a design.  Where to host it, who needs to use it, or even whether the database is worth building.  That communication is vital and enlightening.
  2. Databases are designed to protect data.  You could say it’s their raison d’etre.  Microsoft SQL Server is designed from the ground up to make sure data is never lost, that it is correct, and that if several people try and update it at the same time, the conflict is resolved elegantly.  Much as I love Excel, I can’t say the same about a spreadsheet.
  3. Microsoft SQL Server is designed to let many people use and update information.   People who are expert in the subject area, and those who are less expert.  You can check that the data entered is within an allowed range, that data is only entered once when used within another record, and that duplicate records are not entered.  None of these things seem important at the beginning, but they are all very important once a system has been used for even the shortest time.

There are many more reasons why database systems tend to do the job they were built for, and provide business value over a long period of time.  As each new version of Microsoft SQL Server is released, more functionality is added to protect and enhance business data.  You don’t need to hold huge quantities of data, or massively complex information, for a database to be the best solution.  But if you want everyone to input data in the same way, to be able to work from up to date information, and trust that the data is correct, Microsoft SQL Server could well prove to be part of the solution. 

Now you can use SQL Database on Azure, giving everyone the ease and convenience of the cloud. 
So next time someone says “I’ll build a spreadsheet for that!” pause a moment and reflect on whether it will provide the share-ability, and durability that your information needs.  And if you think a Microsoft SQL Server database might be better for your needs, but would like some help in setting it up, we’d be happy to help.