Scientia potentia est. Knowledge itself is power. The more you know about the customers and clients on which your business relies, the more successfully you can ensure that everyone's experiences of your company are rewarding and positive, encouraging them to keep coming back.

Alternatively, you may need to keep tabs on problems that arise, so you can always be ready for them. You may want staff contact details to always be to hand, or you may have a number of outlets and would benefit from a record of which items are popular where. Every organisation accumulates a large amount of potentially important information just by going about its everyday business. Making sense of this data, understanding its many aspects and impacts on your company, can be the key to growth and success.

Making sense of it all is much easier with Microsoft Access with a range of solutions suited to every need. Access can provide you with just the tools you require; whatever information you want to store, and whatever your organisation could benefit from by analysing the information.

Once you're familiar with the software, you can put your data to any number of positive uses. However, if you've a substantial quantity of information to deal with, and are performing certain tasks in Access time and again, it can get a little frustrating. To spend your valuable time running through the same process repeatedly might seem very wasteful, even if the end results are helpful. Fortunately, you don't have to waste your time at all - Access can be programmed to do repeated tasks for you.

Programmed, though, can be a rather daunting word - conjuring up images, perhaps, of incomprehensible computer code and a lifetime's learning to understand how it all works. Well, fear not; Access supports two forms of programming - macros and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) - that are both easy to learn, straightforward, take very little time to use, and work with clear, comprehensible English. Both have their own purposes and benefits, and between them can make your experience of Access for smoother and more effective.

Macros and VBA

Indeed, macros don't require you to write any code, however simple that code might be. Instead, they're assembled from a list of actions that you need to perform, each action being selected from a drop-down list of those available. Actions can come from within the database (such as a change to data) or from without (such as changes to other databases or system events). Once you've selected the tasks that you need to run, they can be launched at any time by a single button placed into your database or report - just click the button and the rest is automatic.

VBA is more flexible and versatile. The functions that you need to be carried out are entered in VBA code (which, as mentioned earlier, is simple and in plain English), and can be used to construct a short program that carries out exactly the job you need doing. To work with VBA, you will need to learn some basic coding techniques - as opposed to assembling pre-coded actions for macros - but the results can often be far more suited to your specific requirements.

Choosing between the two

So, if macros and VBA can both be used to save time and make your working processes more effective, why should you choose one over the other? The decisive issue is whether macros are capable of doing the job you need - or whether VBA is required for extra complexity or a more individual and specific approach. As macros work with predefined actions, you're restricted to using them for tasks they can handle, although Microsoft have expanded the action list to encourage the wider use of macros.

However, if you're dealing with a macro-friendly task, then there's no reason to favour VBA. Quite apart from the extra demands of using VBA, security issues exist which are negated by using macros. VBA can be used to create malicious code, and if using a database other than your own you should avoid enabling VBA unless you're certain that the source of the database is trustworthy. As macros only use predefined code, however, they can never be misused in this way.

Of course, it is always good practice to be sure that any data you bring into a system is from a trustworthy source, and this certainly shouldn't discourage you from using VBA that you create yourself. There will always be cases that macros do not cover, such as communicating with other Office applications, or manipulating multiple records one at a time. Security concerns that others may have about your VBA can be assuaged by ensuring that you digitally sign any database before sharing it (Access can do this for you) guaranteeing to all recipients that the item they're opening hasn't changed since you closed it.

Macros and VBA can both be very effective tools in helping you and your organisation get the most from Access without wasting time on repetitive tasks. Knowing which to use and when, and allowing both to work in tandem, can give your business a substantial advantage - and a short training course can help you grab this advantage with both hands. After all, time is precious for all companies, and there's never a good reason for wasting it on tasks that the computer can do for you. And if the computer is doing the hard work, then you can get back to getting power from the knowledge you've acquired.