Outgrowing Excel: Why No-code Database Apps Are the Best Data Management Solution for SMBs
Microsoft Excel has been a staple in the business community for decades.
It’s not a surprise that so many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) depend on it as a go-to tool for data management. Excel’s widespread availability and familiar spreadsheet interface that can make it seem like the logical choice for tracking and managing operational data.
However, as businesses evolve and grow, data management needs can quickly outpace the capabilities of legacy tools like Excel spreadsheets. From an increasing number of users to an expanding volume of data, it’s difficult to keep everyone on the same page with up-to-date, accurate information. This is especially true because spreadsheet copies are often saved on individual users’ local computer devices and are frequently shared via email.
Before you invest time in strengthening your Excel skills and learning Excel functions to become a power user, look at the benefits of a no-code database app. They provide an easy-to-manage solution that delivers more robust capabilities to SMBs than even the best Excel functions.
Why No-code Apps Are the Smart Spreadsheet Replacement
Moving to no-code database apps can yield significantly higher dividends in employee productivity, workflow efficiency, data integrity, and data security.
Better Workflow Efficiency
Using no-code database apps, users can easily design custom data entry forms, automate routine tasks, and seamlessly integrate with other business tools and systems, significantly reducing manual data entry and repetitive tasks. And pre-built templates make it fast and easy to get started.
As the volume of data and number of users grow, data sharing becomes more critical. Database apps can eliminate data silos and ensure all team members have access to the most up-to-date information. No-code apps provide anytime, anywhere access to foster collaboration and communication across the organization.
No-code database apps handle complex data structures and large volumes of data with ease, ensuring that the data management process remains efficient and reliable as the business grows.
Robust Data Security
Unlike spreadsheets, no-code apps come with robust security and user-access controls. Using customizable user permissions, SMBs can define granular access and grant permissions to individual users or teams based on their roles and responsibilities. This protects data access and enables curated views that improve productivity by giving users only the data and dashboard-reporting views relevant to their unique role and decision-making needs.
Improve Data Integrity
Learning Excel functions to become a power user may provide a bump in short-term efficiency of data management tasks, but it won’t eliminate the biggest vulnerabilities to data integrity. When you depend on Excel spreadsheets to track and manage data, you constantly fight with data entry errors and correctly enforcing various data formats – numbers, text and dates. Spreadsheets will interpret a fraction like ½ as a date, Jan 2. It takes extra time and vigilance to maintain accurate data.
Database apps deliver more advanced data structure capabilities and enforcement rules for data format, so you don’t unnecessarily waste time hunting down and correcting common errors in data entry or formulas. Richer format options including name, multiple choice, address, email, URL, digital signature, give the no-code app intelligence that a spreadsheet can’t match. No-code apps reduce data entry errors and cut the time correcting the error messages that frequently appear in Excel.
Eliminate Data Silos by Connecting Systems and Data Sources
No-code apps provide integration capabilities that spreadsheets can’t match. Through API access, database apps can connect to other key data sources in the organization’s tech stack. This eliminates siloed data and provides a broader foundation of information to analyze for decision-making insights that can grow the business and profitability.
Customize for Unique Business Workflows
No-code apps offer visual, drag-and-drop builder tools that enable users to design apps that manage data according to unique processes and workflows. Instead of struggling with a multitude of spreadsheets and tabs, data is organized into an intuitive and efficient structure that makes it easy to create custom reports and at-a-glance dashboards to better spot trends, opportunities and issues before they become problems.
The Limitations of Excel Functions in Handling Complex and Growing Data
Excel offers a wide range of built-in functions that can help automate calculations and manipulate data. However, believing that investing time to learn Excel functions is the best path to improved productivity could be a mistake that slows your growth and efficiency potential. The time is likely better spent exploring alternative solutions like no-code database apps.
The limitations of using Excel functions to deliver better automation and efficiency become increasingly apparent as the complexity and volume of data grow. So, it’s time to consider the added power and flexibility that comes from switching to no-code database apps.
Here are some of the most common Excel functions and how you can improve operational performance by moving to a no-code database app instead.
The VLOOKUP function can search for a value in the first column of a specified range of data and return a corresponding value from another designated column. It’s often used to merge data from different tables and perform simple data retrieval tasks.
As an example, consider a plumbing company that uses Excel. It maintains a customer database in one spreadsheet and job records in another. To generate a report that provides the job details plus the customer’s name, address and contact information, VLOOKUP can use a customer ID stored in the job detail record to retrieve and match the customer’s name and contact information. Using this type of data merge, the plumbing company can generate reports that show the relevant information for each job.
That’s useful, but the underlying data can do so much more. A no-code database has relational capabilities to link and retrieve data across multiple tables – and can search bi-directionally. Leveraging a database app instead of a spreadsheet, the owner or manager of that plumbing company can create reports and dashboards to analyze a variety of datasets to track trends in service demands, analyze job performance and plan more effective marketing and customer outreach initiatives.
This limitation is equally true for using common Excel functions like MIN, MAX, SUM, COUNT and AVERAGE. Building these formulas into a spreadsheet can be helpful for basic calculations and for limited datasets. However, as the volume of data grows, performance and scalability limitations become painfully apparent. There’s also a growing risk of data integrity issues due to the extensive manual data entry required, and the lack of encryption and user-based access leave data vulnerable to improper access and use.
The Excel INDEX function retrieves a value from a cell within a specified range based on its row and column number. While a useful function, it still means you have to write and maintain formulas. As the dataset grows, or when multiple conditions must be met, this becomes a complex and error-prone process.
No-code database apps, on the other hand, are more user-friendly and efficient. They enable a user to easily retrieve data using built-in querying and reporting features – which also handle more complex lookups, filters and sorting without the need for formulas. And database apps are designed for scalability and performance, so maintenance and analysis don’t get bogged down as the volume of data grows.
Consider a nonprofit organization that manages an event registration database. Using the INDEX function in Excel, it can gather data from two different tables – like matching a fundraising event title with registered participants. Using a database app, that same organization can create relational links between tables using an intuitive visual interface without worrying about formulas. It can also enforce data validation rules, reducing the risk of data errors and inconsistencies.
And beyond managing the event, the advanced filtering, sorting and reporting of a database app makes it easy to generate custom reports to track event registrations, identify popular events and even analyze volunteer participation patterns to streamline future events.
3. SORT / SORT BY
The SORT and SORTBY functions in Excel enable a range or array of data to be sorted based on one or more specified columns, in either ascending or descending order.
Using a no-code database app, you use built-in features like clicking on column headers or visual query builders that make it easy to sort data based on multiple criteria and to apply advanced filters to handle more complex sorting and filtering tasks without a formula.
A school administrator using Excel to manage enrollment data in one spreadsheet and course registration records in another, could use this function to sort courses based on the total enrollments.
However, the advanced reporting and analysis capabilities of a database app provide far superior capabilities. The administrator could gain deeper insights into course enrollment, student performance and course effectiveness to build a better curriculum to meet student goals. Also, the enhanced security that comes with the role-based user access of a database app means that data can be securely shared in real-time for enhanced collaboration and input.
The FILTER function enables data to be filtered based on one or more conditions. It’s useful in identifying and extracting a subset of data that meets a specific criteria. This spreadsheet function provides the basic capability, but switching to a database app makes this process simpler and more powerful.
Using a no-code app, formulas are replaced by built-in filters, and the greater flexibility in data organization and connections allows for more complex filtering queries. That means you can uncover the full business insight that’s hiding in your data.
Consider the case of a local government worker who is responsible for managing the maintenance and repair of public infrastructure, like roads and parks. Using the FILTER function, the infrastructure manager can generate monthly reports showing a list of completed work orders, sorted by priority, and calculate the total costs incurred for each category of maintenance. That’s helpful and necessary information.
But leveraging the click-of-a-button advantages of storing the same data in a database app, it’s suddenly easy to generate reports that slice and analyze the data in a variety of ways to see things like maintenance hotspots, trends in infrastructure issues and even evaluate the effectiveness of maintenance crews.
Of course, every Excel user is all too familiar with spreadsheet cells that return hard-to-decipher errors like #DIV/0!, #N/A, or #VALUE!. The IFERROR function is useful in replacing these generic errors with custom messages that make it easier to resolve the problem. While helpful, it’s still a reactive process.
For instance, a manager at a healthcare clinic using Excel spreadsheets to manage patient records, appointments and billing information could use the IFERROR function to better identify errors that result from incorrect billing calculations or data entry tasks.
But no-code database apps have features to make error prevention and handling more proactive – improving data integrity and saving time that would otherwise be spent tracking down and correcting errors. Database apps can enforce data validation rules to help ensure users enter data consistently, improving data accuracy without depending on formulas.
Simplifying Database Management
No-code database apps provide a modern and simplified data management solution versus the software coding required to build traditional databases using SQL (Structured Query Language) or VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) – particularly for businesses with limited budgets and IT resources.
No-code apps enable non-technical users to quickly design, build and deploy databases using intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces and visual tools. They eliminate the steep learning curve (and cost) of databases built on SQL or VBA. No-code apps also support the rapid prototype and iteration of database design, fostering a more collaborative and agile approach to data management.
Preparing for Successful Business Growth with No-code Database Solutions
While Excel is an undisputed tool that has served the business community for decades, it’s critical for SMBs to regularly assess existing processes, workflows and data management strategies. Only through regular checks is it possible to recognize when key processes and functions have outgrown the capabilities of spreadsheets.
The growth of no-code apps – delivering advanced functionality packaged with easy-to-use builder and reporting tools – gives organizations robust and scalable solutions to drive the business forward.