Whether it's a business, a home office or your day to day life that you organise using other Office applications, you might find out that it's all getting a bit much. Microsoft Access is a well-known database program, but many people are not sure if they need it or not.

The basic question to ask is if you simply have too much data. There are certain levels of data where you realise it's getting out of control. Personal data - are you losing friend's numbers on slips of paper or are your address books getting tatty and crammed full? Home business data - have you got reams of invoices, customer addresses and filing cabinets fit to bursting capacity? Finally - an office business. You might be using spreadsheets, but have you got so many of them in a shared drive, you and your staff are losing track of what goes where, and what should be updated when?

If any of the above is true for you on any scale, then you're probably better organising your data with Access. It makes access to your data more flexible, easily manipulated and summarised on demand - and it doesn't get full!

If you're apprehensive about using Access, there's really no need - it has the same layout and general feel of other Office applications, which it's also designed to be compatible with, (you can, for example, export your Excel databases into Access with relative ease.) If you're planning on building a huge database though, check that your computer system has the right spec to handle it. There's no use having a large amount of data that grinds to a halt every time you want to use it. That said, most modern PCs will tick over with Access with no problem at all.

How will Access make your life easier? If you're familiar with spreadsheets in Excel and tables in Word, it's really not that much of a leap. Let's say you wanted to create a database of all your personal contacts, from your mobile, your Facebook account, (which is a database in itself,) and bits of paper lying around in your house.

Your table, (which is the main "spine" of any database and allows you to enter data,) would therefore have name, nickname, email address, phone number, postal address, birthday and so on, as headings. This will give you the basic data that you want to manipulate. Of course, no use leaving it in that format, otherwise you may as well have done it in Word or Excel. The clue is in the name: Access will give you better access to retrieve your data in the ways you want.

With a little bit of tuition, you can create complex ways of manipulating and retrieving your data. Let's say you wanted to know all your friends who have a "special" birthday (18, 21, 30, 40, etc) in the coming month, so you can budget for a bigger, more extravagant present (if you're feeling generous). You can ask Access to do that and even provide you with their postal address for you to send the card to.

Once you've had some training on the fundamentals, Access really is easy due to the sheer number of wizards and in-depth help built in. It also has support for the web, so you can post your data there or on your home or work server should you feel that you want to do so. For the advanced users among you, Access is also very compatible with SQL databases.

All in all, it's a very useful tool when Word and Excel start to become counter-productive due to sheer amounts of data. With the advent of paperless offices and less "hard copy" being used in today's greener world, why not make the transition now?