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Spreadsheet vs. database (no code): what is the best option for your next project?

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This article will be interesting for those thinking about using one or more of the following:

  • Spreadsheets for business processes
  • Databases for business processes
  • No-code databases

For over four decades, spreadsheets transformed how we organized and processed information. Even today, spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets continue to drive processes inside large corporations.

Databases, on the other hand, are fundamentally different. While there are many similarities, databases are far more advanced and much more flexible. For example, while spreadsheets can do some basic calculations, they aren’t ideally suited to more complex tasks such as inventory management. But you can use a database.

Spreadsheets weren’t designed to be databases or process trackers. Instead, the intention was to create visual calculators. Yet, many businesses still use spreadsheets to track, transfer, and store data.

Spreadsheets tend to run more small businesses processes than any other enterprise application. They have stood the test of time as its fast, intuitive, and easy enough for non-techy users to perform complex data analysis and at scale.

However, today, with the right technologies at your fingertips, those familiar with spreadsheets can also use a database. Understanding what’s best for you comes down to the use case.

What is a spreadsheet?

A spreadsheet is essentially a computer program used to enter, display, and manipulate data organized in rows and columns. Typically designed to hold short text strings and numerical data, you can either compile data on a single sheet or multiple sheets that make up a workbook.

Spreadsheet vs. database: advantages of using spreadsheets

Many spreadsheet advantages help continue to maintain its position in the marketplace. Some of these spreadsheet benefits include the following:

Improved usability

Spreadsheets are easy to use. Even new users can quickly understand how they work and pretty fast. For example, they can quickly enter, sort, and filter data without any issues by leveraging standard formatting options and so on.

Formatting

Formatting is a breeze when it comes to spreadsheets. Anyone who has used a word processor before (which is pretty much everyone) can bold, italicize, change font size and colors, and much more.

Organization

Spreadsheets organize your data and make it easily digestible. You can create charts and graphs to visualize and present your data. This approach makes the data and insights easily understood by business users.

Charts and graphs

As alluded to above, the best way to communicate quickly is to represent data in graphs and charts. If you want to present the information stored in an Excel sheet visually, you have the following options out-of-the-box:

Some standard spreadsheet charts include:

  • Area chart
  • Bar chart
  • Box and Whisker charts
  • Bubble chart
  • Combo charts
  • Column chart
  • Doughnut charts
  • Funnel charts
  • Histogram charts
  • Line chart
  • Map chart
  • Radar charts
  • Pie and doughnut charts
  • Stock chart
  • Sunburst chart
  • Surface chart
  • Treemap chart
  • Waterfall charts

Profit and loss ratio

Spreadsheets provide different calculation options for the data stored within tables. For example, you can quickly measure the profit and loss ratio for the business and create annual reports from the information using spreadsheets.

Quick modifications

As you can edit the data stored in spreadsheets effortlessly, you can save it in a standard file and enable access to your staff. For example, you can create sheets for each month and year in different worksheets. You can then modify them easily with formulas across sheets. Once the data in a cell is changed, it will calculate the result automatically.

Multiple access

When multiple people access and use the same spreadsheet following best practices, you can boost productivity (as you don’t have to wait on one person to make changes to the sheet). However, in reality, many people often fail to follow best practices.

For example, when multiple people use the same spreadsheet, they usually just lock it, making them wait their turn. This results in multiple copies, which are then quite challenging to merge back together.

Spreadsheet vs. database: disadvantages of using spreadsheets

Like everything in life, spreadsheets also have some drawbacks. Some of these spreadsheet disadvantages include:

Data limits

Whether you use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, spreadsheets come with limitations. For example, you can only store a maximum of a million rows in an Excel sheet. It’s also critical to mention that the longer your sheet gets, the slower the software becomes.

Pro tip: if you need to store a large volume of data, you must use databases.

Data security

Whenever anyone can easily access the spreadsheet file, your data can also be easily stolen and leaked. A data breach could lead to compliance violations, fines, and lawsuits if you store sensitive customer information in an unencrypted spreadsheet.

Pro tip: databases, in comparison, are more secure and help ensure privacy. With a suitable database and related security protocols, you can better protect your business and customers from threat actors.

Decision making

While charts and graphs can certainly spice things up and make insights easily understood, it’s not easy to make business decisions by looking at spreadsheets. That’s why companies often transfer the data living in spreadsheets into other apps and tools to make smart business decisions.

Formulas can be difficult

The formulas used in spreadsheets can be a challenge for some. While there are plenty of free YouTube video tutorials, copying and pasting formulas in different cells can quickly become a nightmare.

Macro coding

If formulas can be a nightmare, your macros will be far worse. This is because it’s challenging to edit macros code. As coding is limited, you don’t have the option of engaging in complex programming.

What is a database?

A database is a computer system used to store structured information or data. Usually controlled by a database management system (DBMS), databases are also modeled like spreadsheets with rows and columns. You can find them in a series of tables that help enhance processing and querying efficiency.

When to use a database vs. spreadsheet? The answer is relative to your specific needs and lies within the pros and cons listed below.

Pros and cons of spreadsheets vs. databases

Key advantages of using a database

Databases are at the heart of all the apps and programs we use daily. So, you can bet there’s a ton of database benefits to explore. Some of the key advantages to using databases is as follows:

Abstraction

Data abstraction reduces data complexity by showing users only data that’s useful to them. This method helps keep business users from getting overwhelmed and helps boost productivity (as they won’t waste time sifting through unnecessary information).

Control data redundancy

Databases make it easy to control redundancy by replicating and storing the same data in different locations (ensuring data consistency). When integrated at a later date, you can reduce storage space, improve retrieval time, and accelerate speed.

Data security

Although spreadsheets fall short when it comes to security, databases help better secure sensitive data. This includes enabling access to only authorized users and only providing access to the information they need to complete a task.

Seamless data manipulation

Like spreadsheets, we can easily manipulate data stored in databases. Once all the data is centralized and structured, you can add, delete, and modify the information stored in the database.

Reduce data inconsistency

As various tables can contain different information about a person or an object, databases help minimize redundancy and improve accuracy. This method helps ensure consistency and makes the data immediately available to users.

Shareability

From a centralized database, it’s easy to share information across multiple applications, including your customer relationship management systems (CRMs). We can also do this without creating new files for each application to use. As such, it goes a long way to enhance end-user experiences.

Concurrent and multi-user views

Multiple users can concurrently access the database and enjoy different views simultaneously. Whenever this happens, productivity accelerates as different users from other locations can access information in different ways to do their job.

Smart decision making

You can store oceans of data in a database and analyze it seamlessly to make intelligent business decisions. You can also leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to enable smart business decision-making in real-time.

Pros and cons of spreadsheets vs. databases

Disadvantages of using databases

Again, like spreadsheets, databases also have some drawbacks. Some disadvantages of using databases include the following:

Hardware costs

Hardware and software costs can quickly add up if you set up a data center in-house. This is because you’ll need expensive hardware that boasts high-speed processors and extensive memory to support your business initiatives.

Pro tip: you can mitigate this expense by moving up to the cloud with a managed services provider.

Conversion costs

If you’re moving data from spreadsheets into databases, it can quickly become a headache. Transforming data into data files to be inserted into a database isn’t straightforward. It’s also quite time-intensive.

Lack of skills and knowledge

If you’re working with traditional databases, you’ll have to have considerable knowledge and skills to use them. As such, you might have to hire top data talent, train staff, and more to take advantage of your database management system.

However, it’s not exactly easy with the current tech talent shortage. But the good news is that there is a way to overcome all these database disadvantages (and get the most out of your business data).

Enter no-code databases!

What is a no-code database?

No-code databases, by design, aim to help people with different levels of knowledge and experience get the most of data without writing a single line of code. This is because the no-code method decouples both coding languages and related syntax from logic.

As such, no-code databases like our offering Baserow, an Airtable alternative, are like your business apps that sit on top of the database engine. Whenever this is the case, it makes database creation and management highly user-friendly for non-techy users. This means that anyone who hasn’t used a spreadsheet before can also quickly start working on a no-code database solution.

No-code databases even the playing field for small and medium-sized businesses that aim to compete with corporate giants. As no-code methodology provides users with the necessary tools to create powerful databases (leveraging a visual approach), you can accelerate database development and access valuable insights within hours or even minutes.

If you decide to self-host your database, you don’t have to deal with potential vendor lock-in. If you have some developers on board, you can also quickly adapt it to your use case by building custom plugins.

Open source, no code databases also let you get up and running without an IT team because you can also run it without leaving your browser. Even if you have more than a million rows, you’ll never have to compromise on speed or hire data experts to manage it.

Conclusion

Spreadsheets are great and still serve a purpose in the fourth industrial revolution. However, databases can do much more by boosting productivity, efficiency, security, and much more. Even if you lack the hardware or technical prowess, no-code databases still fit the bill.

If you’re wondering if a no-code database is right for your net project, just create an account, register, and start building your database. You don’t have to come from a big data background to use it, but it’ll help to have some understanding of the inner workings of relational databases (to get the most out of it).

If you have questions, reach out for answers, or start a conversation with our users in Baserow’s vibrant community forum.

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