Watching businesses mature in terms of the apps they use, especially those that involve lists or data, you can see the sequence is pretty consistent.
Knowing this could give you pointers as to where to go next.
The Bronze Age
Very, very powerful now and full of features that are difficult to replicate in any other tool. We still use bronze today.
Later Bronze Age saw the evolution of data formula such as dlookup and the use of macros.
Two big drawbacks: multi-user (they are not) and data integrity (users can pretty much do anything they want). In reality, these can both be overcome by some neat coding and using shared data but the effort often precludes using spreadsheets. Also difficult to keep track of what you have got.
The Industrial Revolution
The discovery of databases.
Usually Microsoft Access (about the best desktop database there is).
Big problem though is that spreadsheets don’t readily translate to databases (properly) but after a few tries most companies get there.
Big drawbacks: still not really multi-user above a handful of people, and can become corrupted.
Middle Industrial Revolution sees the evolution of the “split” Access database – back-end (shared data) and front-end (forms, reports). Nice. Still issues with corruption, multi-user not great but better and you need to have Access running on all users machines.
Late Industrial Revolution sees the back-end get replaced by SQL Server. Massively multi-user and never corrupts. Very nice.
Only one last issue, having to run Access on the users’ workstations.
So now we evolve to a browser based application. Most likely asp.net and with a SQL Server database. Could host yourself, in rented space or cloud. We have arrived. Very, very nice.
Not all applications make this journey and not all need to. Some branch into more esoteric species such as becoming part of SAP or migrating to off-the-shelf products. Some stay at one stage, never evolving. No problem.
Watch out for the mission critical spreadsheet though – it has seriously harmed more than one company. Check out Kodak, AstraZeneca, TransAlta, Allied Irish Bank, Mouchel to name a few – all losing millions (no joking) because of spreadsheet issues. Also watch for maintenance costs and deployment headaches with non-browser apps. How quick can you adapt to changing needs?
If you are thinking about moving along the evolutionary path and not sure if, when or how to do it, give me call.