Would you think of yourself as organised? Let's say you have a long and rather packed bookcase at home (perhaps you do, perhaps you don't, but we'll say you do); are the books kept nicely and neatly in order, so you can always find what you need at the drop of a hat? Be honest, now. There are rather a lot of us who would say yes, and who might well keep it up for a few weeks at the beginning - but, before long, things start getting left out, or hurriedly put back in the first available place when we're cleaning up. Time tends to be short, and maybe we just don't have enough of it to keep our books carefully ordered.

In which case, it can be a nuisance finding the book you need. But just a nuisance. For a business that needs to distribute stock to a number of branches, it's vitally important to know exactly what is available, in what quantity and where to find it at all times - after all, a shortage of stock can so often mean a loss of business. And just as it helps to have a system by which to sort of locate your books, so you'll need a method to manage your stock information; that's where a database comes in.

PartNow have more than just a bookcase; the company pride themselves on being able to provide any part for any car, and supply the parts to garages the length and breadth of the country. This means maintaining a stock range that runs into many thousands of individual items, as well as managing stock levels to ensure that every item is readily available. Using Microsoft Access, they can be confident of always being in control of their stock - and thus always being able to provide a first-class service for client garages.

The first and most frequently used benefit of keeping the information in an Access database is in finding data. Just as organising your bookcase helps you to find the book you want quickly and easily, so Access is able to sort through a very large database - and PartNow's is very large - and pick out the desired detail immediately. What this means in practice is that, when a garage calls PartNow and asks whether they have a brake calliper for this car or a suspension ball joint for that van, PartNow staff can give them an instant answer - and also have a record of whereabouts in the warehouse they'll find the part.

But Access can do a good deal more for the company, too. Given that the service is based upon always having any part available, it's important that they don't run out, and that they're always aware of stocks becoming exhausted. With conditional formatting, Access can highlight any cells of a spreadsheet according to conditions the user sets out - which, for PartNow, means the software will automatically highlight in red any item for which stocks are in need of replenishment. Access can also produce reports on any aspect of the data, which will make clear which items are called for most often (and so will need more to be kept in stock) and which are comparatively rare - while data bars, small graphs within the data, can show any change - such as an increase in demand resulting from a particular car becoming more popular.

Maintaining the company's key information in an Access database allows PartNow to provide a better and more rapid service for all of their clients; to streamline the process even further, the database can be used to provide an online ordering system, giving the business greater market penetration whilst keeping costs to a minimum. And of course, these advantages could benefit any number of companies, large or small, in all manner of different lines of business. It's worth considering a short training course for yourself or your staff, to get the most out of all the tools that Access has to offer; and through getting the most out of Access, you can be confident of getting the most out of your company's vital information, and making the most attractive future for your business.