written by
5000fish Team

Spreadsheets vs Databases (What's the Difference)?

BI Problems and Solutions 5 min read
DashboardFox - Self-Service BI for Spreadsheets and Databases

Why Use Spreadsheets and Databases?

When businesses have a lot of information to track and want to do so in as organized a manner as possible, they usually turn either to spreadsheets or databases. These are powerful instruments that can organize and report data of many kinds, including client information, purchase orders, product details, and project figures.

However, this is where the similarities between spreadsheets and databases stop. Ultimately, spreadsheets and databases are significantly different tools with different capabilities and use cases.

Generally speaking, spreadsheets might be sufficient for basic or early business needs, but as an organization grows, it’s highly likely that it will need to move into a database environment for its data reporting, analytics, dashboards, and charting. Here’s why.

Spreadsheets vs Databases Differences

Spreadsheets for Starters

A spreadsheet, like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, is essentially a computerized version of a paper worksheet, with the added capabilities of executing formulas, which range from simple (addition) to complex (aggregate).

Spreadsheets are a good starting option for businesses because they are accessible, easy to use, and generally free. Anybody can open up Excel and start typing in information, then send that document to a colleague in an email. Boom. Data management.

Spreadsheets have many capabilities and can be quite powerful in the hands of somebody who knows how to make the most of them. Even a basic user will be able to easily enter data, make calculations, export reports, and share information with others. And a more advanced user can make magic happen.

Furthermore, spreadsheets allow an organization to get started with data management before it is clear what the organization will become and, therefore, what its needs truly are. Using a database right off the bat will pose a challenge as businesses still don’t know the scope of the data they need to collect, store, and analyze.

Moving on to Databases

However, at the end of the day, most businesses tend to outgrow the limited capabilities of a spreadsheet. That is because databases are significantly more sophisticated tools that solve many problems posed to a growing business sticking to spreadsheets for its data needs.

Here are just a few (actually, quite a few) examples of the advantages of databases over spreadsheets for a growing organization.

Databases can handle more data. When your spreadsheets have hundreds of columns or thousands of rows, or when it takes a full hour for a filter to update, it may be a sign that you’re ready to move on to a database, which can easily process millions of data points without performance issues.

Databases are consistent. Because databases can update information automatically, and be shared by thousands of users over a single network, they eliminate the confusion and inaccuracy that occur when different versions of the same spreadsheet are passed around within a company or when more than six people need to update the same sheet.

Databases limit human mistakes. With a database, the type of data that can be typed into any given field is restricted to the intended type of input, meaning you have cleaner, more reliable outputs.

Databases consolidate data. Because databases store all of your data in one place, you don’t have to input the same data over and over into different spreadsheets.

Databases can manage more than just number-based data. They can also track text, code, and images.

Databases are more secure than spreadsheets. Though exact security protocols vary between database options, they are generally more secure than spreadsheets, which can be of utmost importance if your company is storing the sensitive data of thousands of users.

Databases can track historical data. Databases are able to track data changes and reports over time, unlike spreadsheets, which lose data once it is deleted.

Databases track relationships between data. Spreadsheets are a good tool for mapping a few simple, important data points. However, once you start seeking insight into how different types of data move together, spreadsheets become far less helpful. Databases have a relational data structure, meaning they can house many different types of data with complex relationships to other types of data and can find relationships between these different data types. This offers a business a much more robust and insightful understanding of their information.

And don’t worry: databases allow easy input. Information can be quickly inputted into databases from existing spreadsheets, making the transition from spreadsheets to a database as smooth as possible. Furthermore, databases are able to automatically extract and store data gathered from users in online forms, which is an additional plus.

Time to Move On?

If, while reading the above, you found yourself nodding your head at the problems your business has encountered with spreadsheets, or felt excited at the increased capability you would have in your hands with a database environment, that’s a good sign that it’s your time to consider making the switch.

How DashboardFox Can Help

So DashboardFox is primarily a database reporting BI solution. Because of all the advantages of databases listed above, DashboardFox has become an expert in how to speak database language so you don't have to. So the first problem we solve, once you get data into your database, DashboardFox allows a non-technical user to create data sets, reports, and visualizations without writing any SQL code. And when your database is updated, all your dashboards and reports are as well.

Second, if you do have data in spreadsheets, DashboardFox lets you import those spreadsheets or CSV files and we automatically convert them into a database for you. And if spreadsheets simply work best for your process, you can continue to update the spreadsheet and then re-import it to DashboardFox to update your database.

Here's a really powerful feature, you can import multiple spreadsheets or an Excel workbook with multiple sheets, and if there is a common field, such as a customer ID for example, between all your spreadsheets, DashboardFox lets you build a relationship so that your spreadsheets, in fact, become a fully functioning database (or not fully functioning, but you can query data just like a relational database via DashboardFox).

Need a Helping Hand?

Be of all, we can help you if you need it. We offer professional services and priority support options so that our team of experts can do the heavy lifting and get your spreadsheet oriented environment into a shiny new set of interactive dashboards that you can share, schedule, and secure for all the stakeholders in your business.

To learn more, contact us and let's discuss your specific requirements and see how we can help.

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