Should we be using MS Access for our database, or go straight for CRM? What do you think? RRS feed

  • Question

  • Hello all. Apologies for the length of the post, summary provided at bottom.

    I work at a small online retail company (5 employees), and we've been using a handful of software to handle the various aspects of our business: Microsoft Office for day to day utility, Outlook as our mail client, Quickbooks for inventory, sales history, orders and invoicing, and Filemaker for our contact database. There is no real integration going on, the whole thing was (and feels like it was) set up by entrepreneurs who just needed something that worked, not necessarily well. Now I'm looking to see how we can improve what we have.

    Let me talk about Filemaker: We use it as a standalone catch-all for whatever information we need stored for easy reference. Primarily, this means contact and company info, but we might also store a websites login info as its own record, or maybe our local phone repair man's info. Even though Filemaker - like Access - is a relational database software, we store everything in a single table. Storing such a variety of data in a single table is possible because we have a "Notes" column, which we use as the primary cell in each record for information. We search, edit and add records using a single form, and, again, the predominant section of the form is the "Notes" box. For example, we use the "Notes" box to store past order information for our customer records (e.g., a line might read "4/20/2011 Online Order #2893; (3) NG-234520-2398; SAM").

    This is, of course, a horrible way to store information. At the very least we need a relational database with multiple tables, including a table for customer order history. We also don't have any integration between Filemaker and the other software we use: employees just read/copy+paste what they need from Filemaker then manually reenter the data into Quickbooks, or wherever. So I started looking at Microsoft Access, and the possibly of redesigning a company database from the ground up, so as to include all aspects of the company (including things like inventory, trade expo data, etc) in one place. Access seems to be quite powerful and flexible, and I could design my Access Database with all the forms and functionality I might need. Hell, I could design a CRM platform on Access if I wanted to, I'm sure.

    Which is just the point. It occurred to me that I might as well go for a CRM if that's essentially what we're looking to design. In particular, I've been reading about Microsoft xRM, referring to the flexibility of Microsofts CRM to handle any number of needs. But, having never used a CRM before, I'm not aware of what I should expect from one. In particular, what I want to know is if there would be any benefit in maintaining an Access Database separate from Microsoft CRM, as opposed to using CRM's database only. Should I go ahead with the transition from Filemaker to Access, and then look to integrate my Access Database with a CRM? Or should I skip Access altogether, ditch Filemaker and transfer our database into CRM?

    I know so little about the technology/theory underlying Access and MS CRM that I'm not even sure if my question makes sense. For example, I'm imagining that the Access DB and the CRM DB use different technology, that the databases they create and use are fundamentally different in nature. Any education on the matter would be much appreciated!

    TLDR SUMMARY: We use a database program (ie Filemaker or Access) to store and access contact/account info. Can MS CRM replace all the database functionality of these programs? What advantages might there be to using Access and CRM together, as opposed to the CRM by itself?

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011 7:31 PM


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