I had a rare opportunity last evening to have a conversation with my brother-in-law and our conversation got me to thinking once again about the use of spreadsheets as databases. It seems that my brother-in-law is quite the guru at using the Excel spreadsheet. As our conversation progressed, I talked about a simple but powerful application that I had created for one of my customers. He questioned why I wouldn’t just go ahead and create the application using Excel. He said that he could do everything that my application did in an Excel spreadsheet, and I had to agree with him — to a point.
My first thought was that the application I was describing was designed from the very start to be a multiuser system. The application user community I created the system for would not be tolerant of opening up the spreadsheet only to find they couldn’t change it because it was locked by another user. I also made the point that users doing the data entry had a hard time handling columns and rows and where to put information into something such as a spreadsheet. Of course, he said that forms to allow easy data entry into a spreadsheet can be created, if one is knowledgeable enough about how to do it.
Bottom line, our conversation once again pointed to the value and requirement of truly establishing the functionality desired from an application, and with those requirements in mind establish what tool to use to create the application. There are so many variables to consider, not the least of which will include the prospective user group. He did agree with me that there had to be some knowledgeable person able to create a spreadsheet that would duplicate my application. My experience with the small companies I’ve worked with, is that there is no truly knowledgeable and experienced person on their staff to create the kinds of programs that a developer can create.