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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sena

Excel as a Database: Pros, Cons, and Expert Opinions

Can Excel be used as a Database?

Millions of businesses store their data in Excel files.

Yet, calling Excel a database is somehow a polarising topic:

  • Programmers tend to get offended by this statement

  • Most non-IT people used only Excel to store and manipulate data

  • Business Analysts agree or disagree (often based on personal preferences).

Before we jump into the opinions of different professionals and business owners, let’s reflect on this question.

First, what is a database?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a database is a large amount of information stored in a computer system in such a way that it can be easily looked at or changed.

  • Can Excel store a large amount of information? If we consider millions of cells populated with large data, then yes. If we need billions of data points, then no. Excel can store monthly bank transactions of a fairly large company but can’t handle such data for a retail bank.

  • Can data stored in Excel be easily looked at or changed? This depends on how the data is structured and how the input is validated. Often a formatted Excel Table with data validation, slicers and drop-downs would be sufficient for a mid-size business sales tracker but not for tracking Amazon’s inventory.

Second, if Excel can/cannot be a database for me, can it be/not be for others?

  • The default understanding of the database varies between people.

  • Not every database needs to adhere to top-end database engineering standards. Some of them can just be good enough and offer the advantage of the use of use

  • It matters how such a database will be used and how data-savvy the users are.

  • Data storage regulation may also be imposed by the regulator for some jurisdictions & industries like banking.

Here are seven answers to the question, "Can Excel be used as a database? Why or why not?"

Yes, It's Made for Data

To my mind, Excel is made for databases—my digital marketing outreach team uses it as their primary database tool. First and foremost, Excel allows you to filter and work with any kind of information.

You can easily input and update information in a variety of formats, such as text, numbers, and dates. This makes it an ideal tool for organizing and tracking important data, such as customer information, website analytics, and marketing campaign metrics. Plus, Excel's built-in filtering and sorting functions allow you to quickly and easily find the data you need and analyze it in various ways.

Piotrek Sosnowski, Chief People and Culture Officer,

No, It Doesn’t Have the Proper Features for Data Management

No, we cannot use Excel as a database because it lacks the robust features required for proper data management. Excel works with data and performs calculations on it but does not have the features for storage, organization, and retrieval of large amounts of data. It does not offer the same level of security, scalability, or flexibility as databases do.

Additionally, Excel can be prone to data corruption and errors because of its lack of built-in safeguards. Therefore, it is recommended that we should store larger datasets in a database instead of an Excel spreadsheet.

Yes, Its Sorting, Filtering, and Tabular Format Make It Easy

One reason it is an ideal choice for storing and managing data is that it can store and manage large amounts of data in an organized way with sorting and filtering capabilities. Additionally, its tabular format makes it easier to understand and analyze data quickly.

Excel also has powerful features, such as pivot tables that allow users to summarize and analyze data in various ways. Finally, Excel also provides various functions that can calculate values and perform statistical operations on the data. These features make it an ideal choice for storing and managing data.

Yes, Excel is Great If You Want a Simple Database

Excel is great to use as a simple database because it is common knowledge. Many people are familiar with Excel's features and know how to navigate it well, so this makes it easier to integrate into workflows. It's going to be a straightforward database as it doesn't have robust features, but it can reliably handle some types of non-numerical data like text and dates outside of numbers.

However, I wouldn't recommend it for complex or large-scale data management because it has limitations. It can only store a limited amount of data. Excel has row and column limitations, and the more data you add, the slower it becomes. It also cannot handle concurrent users, which can lead to data integrity issues if multiple people try to update the same file at the same time.

Garrett Smith, Head of Local SEO, GMB Gorilla

Yes, Excel Has Powerful Analytical Tools

One reason it is beneficial is that it allows users to store and organize large amounts of data in an easily searchable format. Additionally, Excel provides powerful analytical tools that can be used to quickly extract and analyze information from the database. Moreover, it is relatively easy to use, making it an ideal database solution for businesses of all sizes.

Technically Yes, but is It Recommended? No

Originally, Excel was not created to be a database, but a spreadsheet. Therefore, it encounters significant limitations and delays when a user uses it as a database. Excel can be a great choice and fit for analyzing database segments. However, because of compatibility issues with other formats and its lack of smart management capabilities, it is unsuitable for database actions.

Yes, But Be Aware of the Restrictions

According to my understanding, Excel gives users the ability to store and arrange enormous amounts of data in a manner that is logically organized. Users can construct tables, specify how those tables are related to one another, and run queries to get information. Excel also has built-in tools and formulas for doing data processing and analysis.

Yet, there are certain restrictions involved with utilizing Excel as a database, such as the following:

  • Excel's maximum row limit is 1,048,576 rows, which may not be enough for huge datasets because of Excel's inherent limitations.

  • Excel does not come equipped with any built-in security mechanisms that can safeguard data from being accessed or changed by unauthorized parties.

In conclusion, the question "Can Excel be used as a database?" does not have a clear-cut answer. Whether or not Excel can serve as a database depends on various factors, such as the volume and type of data to be managed, the user's familiarity and comfort level with Excel, the need for specific data management features, the need for multiple user access, and regulatory requirements, among other factors.

Excel can handle small to mid-sized datasets and offers powerful data sorting, filtering, and analysis features, making it an excellent choice for smaller businesses or individual projects. It's especially suitable when ease of use and simplicity are prioritized over complex functionalities.

However, Excel is not designed to function as a full-fledged database. It thus needs to improve when it comes to handling larger volumes of data, managing multi-user access, providing robust data security features, and performing other advanced database functions. Therefore, traditional databases are preferred for larger, more complex data management tasks.

Therefore, while Excel can be used as a simple database, businesses must be aware of its limitations and not rely on it as a complete substitute for a proper database system. Understanding these limitations and leveraging Excel's capabilities within them can allow businesses to use Excel effectively for their data management needs.

1. Lack of awareness
2. Budgeting constraints
3. Status quo
4. Case study
5. Equilibrium
6. The remedy
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