Peter Koehl
If you are considering replacing your computer systems (accounting, inventory control, etc.) because you don't get the information you need to manage your business, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are your systems integrated? (The various modules should talk to each other. If they talk to each other there is no redundant data entry. Customer master files, item master files, vendor master files, etc., are used across all modules of an integrated system.)

2. Are you generally happy with your systems except for the reporting functionality?

3. Do you think that you need a new system in order to get the type of information reports you need to run your business?

If you answered yes to these questions, consider this:

1. The initial cost of purchasing a new system can be very expensive.

2. The effort required to convert, import, and verify current data in existing systems to a new system can be expensive and time consuming.

3. New systems require training. Lack of training will almost surely result in under utilization of a new system. Training is generally expensive and time consuming.

4. Employee knowledge of existing systems is generally of little value in learning and operating a new system.

5. No out of the box system will provide all the information reports you need to manage your business. That system doesn't exist and never will.

6. Any system you purchase will require unique report writing in order to get the management information you need. Most systems include a report writer. In many cases the report writer is just a simplified version of a database manager that has been incorporated into the system to give it the appearance of a total integrated system.

The Alternative

The alternative to purchasing a new system is to add a custom Microsoft Access integrated information system that gets its raw data from your existing computer systems.

Critic's arguments against using Access for your management information reporting system:

  • Access is too slow in a multi-user system.

  • Access can't handle large databases with many records.

  • Access isn't sophisticated enough to handle the types of reports needed.

  • Access isn't incorporated in basic systems.

    Responses to arguments against Access and arguments for using Access for your management information reporting system:

  • It is true that Access wouldn't be appropriate for a large multi-user accounting system in which many individuals are entering data simultaneously, but that isn't true for management information systems. Management information systems are generally accessed infrequently, for short periods of time, by few individuals, for annual, monthly, weekly, or daily reports. Even in large organizations, management information systems rarely if ever are slowed down as a result of excessive usage. Most reports take only a couple of minutes to produce.

  • Access database size limits are no different than most other business systems - they are limited only by the disk size of the computer on which they are running.

  • More capital has been invested in Microsoft Access than any other database system in history. This includes accounting and other database systems. Access has so much functionality that it is almost impossible to conjure up an application that can't be developed in Access.

  • Most systems today allow for links to Microsoft Access. This allows Access to pull raw data from basic systems easily and quickly to use in its own applications.

  • Access has the easiest interface of any sophisticated report writer. It has been a part of Microsoft Office for many years. It is unlikely that any other relational database will overtake Access as the top seller any time soon.

  • It is easier to find programmers for Microsoft Access than for any other database programming language.

  • There are often multiple individuals in an organization that can write basic Microsoft Access applications. Maintaining the management information system in Access provides tables that can be used by employees to develop their own reports without the risk of damaging basic system data.


    Some suggested solutions for developing improved management reporting that is also cost-efficient:

    1. Design an Access database information system that automatically imports raw data each night. This provides data that is up-to-date as of the close of business the prior day and is available for reports without competition from other data entry individuals.

    2. With Microsoft Access, an integrated management information system can be developed with more functionality than virtually any modern accounting or inventory control system that comes with its own report writer.

    3. Microsoft Access is the perfect solution for virtually any system. It is a robust database manager that is the most popular in the world.

    4. Microsoft Access is very inexpensive and allows employees to write some of their own applications without risking data integrity of basic systems. For those more familiar with spreadsheets, data from Access tables can be easily downloaded into Microsoft Excel.

    5. Most reports can be run in just a few seconds or minutes. They can be printed to an Adobe Acrobat file and stored in a shared folder or e-mailed to appropriate personnel. Management can then access the reports at their leisure and view them or print them in seconds.

    6. It is generally a good rule of thumb to not make any modifications to your basic systems. Modifications are not only expensive, but each time a revision to a basic system is installed, the modifications will have to be reprogrammed. Tables in most systems are changed less frequently than the functionality of the application. As a result, modifications to the Access management information system are required very infrequently.

    Do A Little Research

    Look at user groups for the software you are considering purchasing. Chances are, there are relatively few groups with relatively few discussions on items of your interest. This is a good indication of how many programmers will be available to write reports. It is also an indication of how many resources the software company has allocated to the design and improvement of the software.

    Investigate Microsoft Access user groups. See how many there are and how much discussion occurs in these groups.

    Microsoft Access is the most widely used database manager in the world. Each upgrade includes better and better wizards to help novices write their own applications.

    Microsoft spends far more on development of this database manager than is spent on any competing products.


    The cost of developing a management information system in Microsoft Access is generally a fraction of the cost of purchasing a complete new system.

    If all that is needed is a more robust management information system, an Access reporting system is quick and easy to install.

    A Microsoft Access information system is a low-cost, high-return solution that offers superior results.

    Peter Koehl, president, Peter Koehl Associates, Tustin, Calif., is a consultant to small and large companies in the areas of financial operations and systems design. Prior to consulting, he held an executive position with a Fortune 200 company. He obtained his CPA while working for a major CPA firm and received his MBA from the Advanced Management Program at Michigan State University. For more information, call 714-832-6100, e-mail, or visit

    Publication date: 05/17/2004