If you want to make a listing of everything, it’s tempting to see Excel as the default repository: right after all, it’s only a modest listing of goods for on your own or a few close colleagues.

Possibly you want anything a lot more sophisticated – formulae for some calculations, or macro programming to automate the assortment and processing of information. No difficulty: just sort “=” to start writing a formula and Excel will be your guidebook.

Sadly, the relieve with which you can start perform in Excel or a rival spreadsheet application is also a person of its complications. What begins as a modest project in Excel grows and grows, right until you are remaining with a behemoth – at which stage you could also be dealing with pace and balance concerns, or even a enhancement difficulty you just just cannot fix.

Below, we analyze the concerns you can frequently occur up in opposition to with spreadsheets, how you could probably tackle them in Excel, and when you’d be improved off getting the plunge and switching to a database rather.

one. Multi-person editing

When Excel devices expand organically, you speedily operate into the difficulty that only a person person can open a workbook at any a person time. The next human being to try to open the file is advised it’s already open and that they can terminate, wait around or check out a go through-only version. Excel’s guarantee to permit you know when the other human being closes the workbook is instead hollow, considering that it doesn’t check the standing really frequently, and in truth it might in no way enlighten you. Even if it does, someone else might nip in and open the file just before you.


There are a few strategies close to this: you can use Excel On line, the minimize-down, world-wide-web-centered version of Excel you can transform on the Shared Workbooks characteristic or you can split the information into quite a few workbooks so that a various human being can use each and every workbook with out you all treading on each and every other’s toes.

2. Shared workbooks

Excel On line enables a number of editors by default, but it’s lacking so significantly functionality that it isn’t actually a contender for everything but the easiest responsibilities. Though its Shared Workbooks characteristic appears like it must do the position, it’s loaded with limitations. You just cannot create a desk or delete a block of cells if the workbook is shared, for case in point.

“When Excel devices expand organically, you operate into the difficulty that only a person person can open a workbook at any a person time”

There are workarounds for some limitations – for other folks it’s a matter of shifting the construction of the workbook, instead than using a workbook which is already been set up – but they can get in the way. As a consequence, it can be not possible to use a shared workbook in the similar way you might an standard, solitary-person workbook.

Modifications in shared workbooks are synchronised between buyers each and every time the workbook is saved this can be on a timed program, forcing a conserve each individual five minutes, for case in point. Nevertheless, the overhead of common saving and monitoring each individual user’s improvements is really significant: workbooks can effortlessly balloon in dimensions and put a strain on your network, slowing down other devices.

Shared workbooks are also fragile and vulnerable to corruption. Microsoft is aware of the difficulty, but doesn’t feel to be doing significantly about the challenge. It appears like it’s hoping Excel Online’s multi-authoring system will get more than from the older shared workbook technologies, but this won’t be a sensible proposition right until the company gets rid of all the limitations and extends the multi-authoring technologies to the total Excel desktop software, as it has with Term, PowerPoint and OneNote.

three. Linked workbooks

Splitting your information across a number of workbooks can offer a workaround to the difficulty of multi-person editing. But it’s probable these workbooks will want to have back links between them so that values entered in a person can be applied in an additional. Backlinks between workbooks are also helpful for preserving logically independent information in independent documents, instead than just independent sheets in a person workbook.

Annoyingly, these back links are an additional source of stress and instability. They can be absolute, which includes the total route to the source workbook, or relative, which includes only the variation between the source and location paths. Though this seems practical, Excel employs arcane procedures to choose when to use each and every sort of website link and when to alter them.

The procedures are ruled by a selection of options, some of which aren’t at all noticeable, and by regardless of whether the workbooks ended up saved, and where by they ended up saved just before the back links ended up inserted. The back links can also alter when you conserve the workbook or open and use Help save As to make a duplicate, instead than copying the file using the File Explorer. The upshot of all this confusion and uncertainty is that the back links between workbooks can split effortlessly, and recovering from broken back links can be a time-consuming approach, in the course of which no-a person can essentially use the documents afflicted.

Linked information is only up to date when the documents are opened, except you precisely simply click Details | Connections | Edit Backlinks | Update Values. Since of this, if your back links aren’t between two workbooks, but include a few or a lot more, you have to open all the workbooks in the suitable order to assure the up to date information flows in order, from the initial to the next to the 3rd. If you transformed a price in the initial workbook and then opened the 3rd, it wouldn’t see any improvements since the next workbook hadn’t up to date its values.

This chaining of information is sensible, but it boosts the likelihood that information is either incorrect or that you will try to open a workbook that someone else is already editing.

Of system, you can try to steer clear of connected workbooks completely, but there is a possibility you will end up getting into the similar information into a lot more than a person workbook – and with that comes the threat of typing it in slightly in another way each and every time.

4. Details validation

Errors can creep into information in any personal computer system: people mistype words and phrases or transpose digits in quantities with monotonous regularity. If your information isn’t checked as it’s entered, you are going to have a difficulty.

By default, Excel accepts whichever the person forms. It is achievable to set up validation on glimpse-up lists, but these can be complicated to keep, specifically if the similar area is applied in a lot more than a person spot. If buyers have to enter doc ID quantities or shopper reference quantities with out any checks, it’s straightforward to tie the incorrect data with each other with out realising it. The information integrity of the system is then fatally compromised, and any investigation of the information is suspect.

You may well already be suffering the effect of this difficulty with out realising the root cause. Consider a predicament where by you have a listing of invoices in Excel where by the person has typed the identify of the shopper slightly in another way on each and every invoice. You’ve received invoices to “Jones Ltd”, “Jones Limited”, “Jonse Ltd” and “joness”. You may well be aware that these are all referring to the similar company, but Excel doesn’t. Any investigation of the invoice information, these types of as a pivot desk by shopper by month, will give a number of benefits where by there must only be a person.


5. Navigation concerns

Huge workbooks are complicated to navigate. The row of sheet tabs across the base of the window is a horrible mechanism for discovering your way close to if there are a lot more than a handful of tabs when there are a lot more tabs than can be displayed across the monitor, it will become even a lot more complicated to uncover what you are hunting for. You can correct-simply click on the arrows to the remaining of the sheet names to provide up the Activate Sheet dialog, but even that only lists the initial 20 sheets just before you have to scroll the listing – and there is no way to type, team or search for the sheet you want.

6. Security concerns

You can increase protection to Excel workbooks, but it’s rife with complications. Security is geared significantly a lot more to preserving the construction of the workbook, instead than the information. You can try to lock some sheets and cells to cease buyers shifting the construction and formulae, but if they can see the information then they can commonly alter any or all of it (except you do some intelligent macro programming).

7. Speed concerns

Excel isn’t the swiftest software in the planet, and its programming language, VBA, is sluggish as opposed to a lot more expert programming languages these types of as C#. This all stems from the supposed use and versatile character of Excel. It is, right after all, a spreadsheet motor. Sure, it can be pressed into services to control lists of information, but that doesn’t signify that it’s the very best alternative for this kind of perform. Certainly, there are other apps improved suited to these types of responsibilities – since they ended up created to do them.

Enter the database

If you are hitting any of the complications outlined above, never ignore them: there is a expert reply to storing “structured data”, and it’s our old pal the database. It doesn’t have to be terrifying or pricey, and it must give you the possibility to imagine logically about your information, how it back links with each other and how you interact with it.

Get heed, however: if you are relocating from a spreadsheet option to a database, never slavishly copy the spreadsheet design: get the possibility to make it improved.

There are common-function database apps obtainable, with which you can build a bespoke option. Alternatively, you may well uncover that a expert database software – a person that has already been created for the function you call for – is less expensive, speedier to implement and a improved match.


For occasion, if you have a listing of prospects and information of all your interactions with these prospects, that could be thought of to be a shopper marriage administration (CRM) system. Even with its extravagant identify, a CRM system is merely a specialised database. Likewise, accounts packages these types of as QuickBooks and Sage are expert databases. If you just cannot uncover a prebuilt software that satisfies your specific desires, you can most likely establish a person on your own or get a person developed for you by your IT section or a consultant.

The most common database sort is a relational database. This suppliers its information in tables, which consist of rows and columns of information. Each and every row retains the information for a independent product – for case in point, a specific shopper – and each and every column describes a various attribute of the product, these types of as the customer’s identify or credit history restrict.

“You only want to enter a customer’s information the moment to create a record, then you can use it on as lots of invoices as you want”

The tables have associations described between them so that, say, an invoice carries the shopper ID. This means you can effortlessly uncover all the invoices for a specific shopper or, from a specific invoice, retrieve the customer’s telephone amount. You only want to enter the customer’s information the moment to create the shopper record, and you can then use it on as lots of invoices as you want with out obtaining to sort it in yet again. To create a database, you have to determine these tables and associations and then determine the format of the screens you want to use to listing and edit this information.

There are dozens of database apps out there. Some are straightforward to use and do the entire position, enabling you to determine the tables, information-entry screens and experiences other folks are a lot more absolutely highlighted in distinct areas but call for other tools to do the entire position.

For occasion, a application may well be really impressive when it comes to defining the tables and associations, and even have impressive investigation and reporting characteristics, but entirely deficiency any tools for defining information-entry screens. Microsoft SQL Server is the noticeable case in point listed here. As with other significant database devices, SQL Server takes treatment of the again-end and expects you to use an additional device, these types of as Visual Studio, to produce the front-end.

Which database is correct for you?


Obtain is a person of the granddaddies of desktop databases. It is straightforward to use – and straightforward to abuse. You can design tables, screens and experiences from scratch, or start from a template. Some of the templates are overtly American and never generally train very good follow, but they get you began speedily. Screens and programming characteristics can be really sophisticated, and you can deploy your completed software to your intranet instead than relying on file shares to get the software to the buyers. 



SharePoint is a database as perfectly as a doc-storage mechanism. You can use it to compile straightforward lists and website link them with each other. The Type Designer isn’t terribly sophisticated, but customisation is achievable. SharePoint’s potential to suck a listing of  data amassed in Excel into a tailor made listing is helpful. It would make the listing obtainable to every person on your network, but also permits you to increase protection to restrict who can do what with that information. You can ask SharePoint to alert you by electronic mail when someone provides, edits or deletes data and, if you are storing information concerning people, calendar goods or responsibilities, you can synchronise that information with Outlook. 

Zoho Creator

The world-wide-web services Zoho Place of work includes a database software that uses drag and drop to lay out its varieties in an straightforward, intuitive way. You can also use drag and drop to application the interactions and workflows. Remaining a world-wide-web services, your information and apps are obtainable from any where, with straightforward protection to hold your information private. Zoho charges per person per month, but restrictions the amount of data you can shop for that value. It charges added for storing a lot more information or for other characteristics these types of as electronic mail integration.