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Microsoft Access

So, what is Microsoft Access?

For anyone that has found him/herself under the gun who needs to consolidate, store, gather, isolate or manipulate information then report against it to a group of stakeholders, Microsoft Access is the application to use. It can be purchased as an add-on to the Microsoft Office Professional package. If you foresee yourself managing a neighborhood contact list or downloading information from a company’s mainframe system, you can use Microsoft Access.

Upon opening Microsoft Access, there is the option to open a blank database or a number of templates. When you open the application, either using a template or a blank database, you will see a menu on the left side of the application which is the "Objects" menu. This menu will provide the category of functions that you need in order to use the database. The general concept of Access, using the "Object" menu is as follows:

  • Tables: are used to store your raw data. For example, the administrator can upload information from Excel (*.xls), Text (*.txt), or non-Access database (*.dbf) files.
  • Queries: are used to manipulate the data in the tables. They can be used to add, update, or remove information from the tables. They can also be used to create tables. There are several types of queries that can be created. To add information, use an "append" query, to update information, use an "update" query, to remove information, use a "delete" query, to create tables, use a "make table" query.
  • Forms: are used to enter information into the tables. In addition, they are designed for end-users to navigate the database.
  • Reports: provide a layout in order to share the raw data and/or data analysis with others.
  • Pages: provide an interface with the internet.
  • Macros: are used to automate database tasks. They can be used to upload information into the database, automate functions within the database, to providing the end-user warning and/or informational messages.
  • Modules: allow you to program the database using Visual Basic.

Across the top of the database window is another menu with the "Open", "Design", "New", "X", and several icon display options. These menu options are available regardless of which category chosen in the "Objects" menu. The menu across the top of the database window provides the following functions:

  • Open: the database administrator can open any highlighted object (table, query, form, etc.)
  • Design: allows the administrator to change the inherent/design functions of any database object. For example, if the administrator goes into the design view of a macro, s/he can change the operations of the macro.
  • New: the programmer can create any new object within the database.
  • X: deletes any object within the database.
  • Icon displays: change how the objects appear within the database window. This function is similar to how Windows provides various display options.

As you delve into the world of Microsoft Access, there are wizards to assist with any function needed. Based upon what needs to be created, the questions will change. If the database is for personal use, department-wide use, or for use across the organization, ensure that the following foundation questions are answered prior to building the database:

  • Why is the database needed? Is it to store information on a long-term basis or will the information be updated on a daily basis?
  • Where are the information sources? Is it from a pre-existing spreadsheet or will it be entered manually? Who will need the information from the database?
  • Who will be using the database? Are there many end-users or just one?
  • Where will the database be housed? Will it be on a network server or a personal computer?
  • When does the database need to be operational? Build testing time into the project plan.

With this general overview of Access and by answering these foundational questions, any administrator is well on the way to effectively handling any information that comes his/her way.