The Future of Microsoft Access

I was asked recently about the future of Microsoft Access which comes up from time to time. The person asking the question this time was the new CIO of a mid-sized company in Kansas City, Missouri and she was in the process of building a 5+ year IT strategy for her new employer. The company had been using MS Access for a number of departmental custom applications since the late 1990s and was still continually modifying the applications as business requirements changed. While she was confident that Microsoft would continue to support and enhance Access for the foreseeable future (new features in the 2019 version had just been released), her main concern related more to finding resources to support it either as employees or from a custom development perspective and what to do with a couple of their larger data volume Access databases.

Before I addressed her resources question, I discussed the overall business case for Microsoft Access. While Access does have it’s place and limitations, in my long experience as an Access consultant, there are two typical areas where Access isn’t always best-suited. First when the volume of data hits a certain point (combined with a relatively large number of concurrent users), most companies migrate Microsoft Access data to a Microsoft SQL Server database. There are tools built-in to Access to easily migrate to a more powerful SQL Server database and you can still use the Access UI/front-end (forms, report, code and queries). They are just now pointed to linked SQL Server tables. In some cases, certain queries can be moved to SQL Server Views to improve performance. Second, for a variety of reasons, Access is typically not the database to use for a web site but since SQL Server is great for web sites, many companies use Access internally to interact with the underlying SQL Server web site data and web site visitors use the same SQL Server database for their purposes.

I then covered some of the reasons why companies continue to use Microsoft Access.

  • Microsoft Access continues to be one of the most widely used desktop database applications world-wide. See DB-Engines.com for their latest analysis.
  • Microsoft Access is part of Microsoft Office so a large number of business users will find the interface familiar.
  • When deploying Microsoft Access applications, most end-users don’t need the design tools so you can use the free Microsoft Access run-time version for those users.
  • The ability for an average user to learn and become proficient in Access makes Access development overall much more affordable and more rapid.
  • Third party support for Microsoft Access databases is very common.

I then shared my resources experience with her and suggested that in most metropolitan areas it was relatively easy to find qualified Access consultants living in the area and if using a remote consultant was an option, those were even easier to find -and- since Access was still very popular, the supply of Access resources made the cost of those resources relatively cost-effective when compared to other development platform resources. Finally, I let her know that a common strategy for mid to large-sized companies was to develop some internal Access skills. Many employees welcome the opportunity to learn new skills and make themselves more valuable and the basic to intermediate Access skills can be learned typically in a few months of part-time learning and practice. I routinely work with companies that have employees with good Access abilities and I am called in for more advanced areas when needed or for coaching, co-developing with employees to grow their knowledge while implementing features.

The new CIO shared her 5+ year plan with me a couple of months later and in it was a line item for Microsoft Access training for a number of employees including a bonus and pay increase for those employees completing the training.