Reader Ali Rashid writes
would you please prepare something about Microsoft Access. At your service Ali.
Microsoft Access is probably the last application in the Office suite most people try to use. It is intimidating to learn in comparison to Word and Excel, and doesn’t produce anything nearly as pretty as PowerPoint. However Access is
possibly the most useful programme in Office, especially for those who run businesses.
Access is a database management programme. It allows you to create databases and then access the information in them in different ways.
Hang on a minute. What is a database?
A database is a store of information. Imagine a government office somewhere in Dar es Salaam. That office has lots of paper work. Lots and lots of paperwork. The papers can be about lots of different things – imports, exports, taxes and the like. These different pieces of paper are related to people, businesses and even other pieces of paper. A clever clerk might organise these pieces of paper so that those relating to the same person or company are stored next to each other and easy to find when it comes time to send the tax man round.
This is a database. An old fashioned one. Computers have revolutionised databases (although not necessarily Tanzanian government offices!) The same information from all those pieces of paper can be filed away on a computer database, which takes care of keeping the related records together. Much neater than a filing cabinet.
Access is like a giant filing cabinet squeezed inside a computer. By storing your information in an Access database you can access it in lots of different ways, just like the taxman.
If you have a warehouse full of car parts you would probably like to know which parts you have without looking through all the boxes. You might not be able to remember which part goes with which car. You might want to know how much you sold the last one for, and how much profit you make per part. A database can help you here.
Or perhaps you are a doctor. You want to be able to store your patients’ records in one place and access them quickly in an emergency. Perhaps you want to see how many people you prescribed a certain drug to in the last month. Rather than looking back through a pile of notebooks, you could search your database and in seconds have the answer.
Filling the drawers
Before you can do things like this you need to design and create a database and begin to populate it. This is the tricky bit. It requires thinking aboutwhat sort of information you want to keep and splitting it into different kinds of things and the properties of those things – people are things that have amongst other properties names, addresses and ages, car spare parts have numbers, names and cars they fit in.
For each thing that you identify you create a table. A table looks a lot like an Excel spreadsheet. A table has columns for each property you identified for the thing and rows for each individual person, car part or corresponding thing you want to store information on.
Chances are you identified several things. The busy mechanic will probably have tables for customer, products and order. The next task is to see the relationships between the different things – your customer raised an order for a particular product. Repeat customers may have several orders for the same or different products.
Access allows you to draw these relationships, making it easy for the mechanic to look back and see all the products they have sold to a customer over the last year.
Access also makes it easy to add new information to the database. You can create forms which make sure you add the correct pieces of information into the right columns on the right tables.
Database design is a tricky task – budding IT students out there should take note that most business people won’t be able to do this for themselves. Business people should take note that having access to business information in this way can point the way to more efficient working, marketing and other routes to increased profits.
Access + Word = easy mail outs
Access can be used in conjunction with other Office programmes to put the information used to purposes other than increasing knowledge about the things or people you work with. If you need to send letters to all your customers, Word
can query an Access database and create individually addressed letters and envelopes to hundreds of customers in less time than it would take to write two by hand.
As you can see Access (and other database programmes out there) can be used for all kinds of administrative and information purposes.
There isn’t room here to cover even the basics in detail. The printed Access manual that came with old versions of Office is an excellent introduction to databases if you can find it. Courses in database management are available at some schools in Arusha. Some web sites have a go at teaching the basics – here are a few good ones.
- www.fgcu.edu/support/office2000/access/ – a detailed tutorial for beginners
- www.geekgirls.com/menu_databases.htm – more general database tutorial
- www.microsoft-accesssolutions.co.uk – articles on designing databases
Originally published in Arusha Times 333