The name Microsoft Access is as well-known as that of any business software is likely to be, but we shouldn't confuse recognition of the Access brand with experience in using it; and just as there's no shortage of people who use Access all the time, so there are also a great many who could benefit from using it, but don't. And if you fit within the latter category, that's perfectly understandable - like countless others, you might not have had the time to learn, you might be used to doing your work a different way, you might not be sure what it can do for you or why, or any number of other reasons. That's fine, really it is, but perhaps it might be worth having a little look to see just how much Access can help you, how effective it can be and how much time it can save. Just a quick look - don't worry, Access won't bite.

Right then, let's start with just what Access is. Strictly speaking, it's a Database Management System, but that adds a level of complexity that we really don't need to worry about - we'll be fine just calling it a database, which, as the name suggests, is simply a place to store data. Every business has data that needs storing, key information on products and customers and clients and materials... all the important details about whatever the business does. Keeping hold of this information and storing it in an easily accessible is essential; being able to sort and analyse it, to extract a clear understanding of where your business is now and where it will be in the future, can be an invaluable advantage.

And getting started with Access could scarcely be easier. The Access website has no end of templates and prebuilt solutions freely available to fit every purpose (or, alternatively, just google 'Access templates') - these are designed quite simply to take any complexity out of setting up the database. So if, for example, you want to create a database of quotes for work that your company has given out or received, just download the 'Quotes' template from the website. Or perhaps you want a database of employees' expenses - again, there's a template there to download. What these templates do for you is they create a database automatically that's ready to use and suited to your needs; all you need to do is start entering the information.

As you'd probably have imagined, the actual entering is a straightforward enough process, selecting where to type and typing, no tricks or troubles. But if you already have data stored somewhere on a computer, you don't even have to type them in; information can be automatically transferred over from many different sources, from Excel spreadsheets to HTML files, even simple text documents. Just select the import data wizard, follow the on-screen instructions, and voilà! Your database is up and running with all your previously accumulated data, and you've barely had to lift a finger.

We said earlier that being able to store information is essential, and we've seen just how simple it is. What about that extra understanding? First, it's worth sorting the entries into a suitable order - alphabetical, chronological, numerical, or whatever you feel would work best for your situation - and this is as easy as right-clicking on the column that you want to be sorted. Access will give you a choice of possible sorting methods for that column; pick one and your information is much easier to comprehend.

But you might well have quite a lot of data across many categories in your database, and just sorting them in order isn't going to be enough for you to find the information you want. What you need is to make a query - and that's no more complicated than the sorting. There's a create tab at the top of the page, and a query design selection within it; with this, you can pick out just the categories of data you want to see (so if, for example, you want a list of products and their prices, you can simply choose those two categories in the query design tool). You can also gain access to your data, or provide access for others, by creating a form with which to request certain types of information; these forms are just a simple way of asking a database to automatically pick out any pieces of individual data that fit your request, and Access will help you create them from a few easy building blocks.

With that, you're database is entirely up and running and ready for all your business needs. Once you've got the hang of the basics, it's certainly worth looking into the further benefits that Access can offer, particularly its wide range of reports that can identify from your information trends, concerns, areas of growth and decline, and any issue that might play a role in your business's success today or tomorrow. It's beyond the scope of this article to go into everything that Access can do for your business - it would go on halfway to forever - but a short training course for yourself or your staff can quickly get you up to speed with the best tools for you situation. Your organisation's information is precious and essential; with Access, you can make sure it's properly looked after, and find in it the answers you need.