Can MS Access Compete With Other Major ERP Systems?

Lately there have been several forum posts and articles that discuss the potential for MS Access as a viable alternative to other major ERP systems such as SAP, SQL Server Enterprise, and others. How could this be? MS Access may be a low cost data warehouse and reporting engine, but it has some major limitations. Many would argue that Access’ flexibility and low cost easily outweighs any major ERP solution.

First off, Access is a database management system created by Microsoft that combines a GUI (graphical user interface) and a database engine. Combined with software development tools, Access can be used in conjunction with Windows operating system functions. Organizations who originally stored their data in Excel spreadsheets will often find themselves graduating to Microsoft Access as their needs for data security and storage grow. Even large firms use Access. Certain departments have a desire to perform processes or report against the company’s database. However, due to organization rules/policies, or technical constraints make it impossible for users to perform any work with the firm’s central data warehouse. Therefore, this department is given access to only a subset of data from the main system. This subset is typically managed in Access.

There are obvious reasons why organizations large and small would utilize MS Access, but does that make it a viable ERP System? There are some serious limitations to Access. For starters, storage is a major issue. Access only allows for 2GB of storage.  Scalability is a problem as well, accessing the system across multiple networks, machines, and systems can be a headache. Managing data integrity can be hair pulling as well. Complex development is needed to ensure that data between multiple Access systems is both accurate and consistent. Report designing lacks some of the finesse of other report writers such as Crystal Reports. All of these limitations can become a problem when using Access as an full service ERP. In reality, you would need to both have patience and the willingness to be developer in order to make it work.

On the other hand, MS Access could be a viable ERP system. It’s far less costly than larger ERPs, but organization must be willing to build a solution rather than buying one from out of the box. This gives firms the ability to utilize and customize the system in a way that best suits their business.  Access and some clever programming cannot accomplish this alone. Other systems and software will need to be combined with Microsoft Access in order for it to compete with larger ERPs. First, users will have to deal with the storage and scalability problems. Splitting MS Access between a frontend a backend system is an option. Possibly using SQL Server or SQL Server Express as the backend system can work here. SQL Server has a much larger capacity and scales better. Users will still use Access to view reports or use forms. As a further alternative, rather than using Access’ reporting engine, use a report designer such as Crystal Reports. Use tools such as MARS to schedule macros, queries, and reports. MARS also has features for database integration and syncing which solves the issue of maintaining data between multiple Access systems.

To find out whether Access is a viable ERP system, one must first look at the needs of the business. Does the business need a global ERP system that scales for thousands of users, all data is constantly accessed in real time, and provides tools such as dashboards and analytics? If the answer to that question is yes, then using MS Access probably won’t be the best route. You also need to determine whether the firm is willing spend more money on an “off the shelf” system, or spend the time and energy to develop a system in house. Taking these factors into account will help you choose the right solution for your business.
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