Spreadsheet or Database – the ongoing debate!

The big question: how do you want to organise your data?

A database is designed to work with relational data – your information is divided into multiple logical tables that can be joined, while a spreadsheet works best with flat data structures – in a single table or list of information that isn’t related to other data.

How can you tell if you need a relational structure for your data?

Firstly, if you have a lot of repeated data (eg. contact names and phone numbers) and secondly, if you want to track actions or events, a relational structure works best. If you only have a small amount of data and don’t mind looking at repeated information, then use a flat structure.

If storage is your primary goal, then use a database, but for analysis use a spreadsheet. A database can store a large amount of data – spreadsheets are designed to store numbers and perform sophisticated calculations.

Spreadsheet advantages include:

  • Analyses and numbers
  • Great for answering the ‘What if’ question
  • PivotTable reports provide interactive tabular summaries of your data.

Database advantages include:

  • Simple verified data entry that can be audited and contributed to simultaneously by multiple users
  • Great for creating professional reports containing a variety of data sets and searching through large amount of data
  • Data accumulation is in real time and has automatic aggregation capability.

Before making the decision on what to use, consider your business process needs, develop a capability wish list and cross reference your needs with those of the spreadsheet or database ability.