[Guest Blogger] Access 2007: An IT Manager Kicks the Tires – Part 1

Don Spencer (Waterloo, ON, IT Manager of Pano Cap Canada)

OK. I have a confession to make. Before crossing the floor to becoming an IT Manager, I was a developer. Some would say, not a real developer, only someone who made his living designing and deploying custom applications in Microsoft Access since 1993 using VBA and great advice from MVPs (and former MVPs)  like Ken Getz, Mike Gunderloy, Paul Litwin, and Mike Gilbert.

I have developed sophisticated multi-user applications for manufacturing, retail, government, and social work agencies across Canada and the United States, all of which were done with various versions of Access from 2.0 to 95, 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. Then, in 2004, after having designed a manufacturing information system and assisting in the deployment of an Oracle-based ERP system, I was asked to join the staff of Pano Cap Canada as their newly minted IT Manager. But part of the deal was that I could maintain a part-time application development business one day per week. To this day, I maintain applications for existing clients, primarily Access 2003-based systems.

Now, along comes Access 2007 with plenty of bells and whistles like the new navigation pane and The Ribbon, and I wonder about how my split IT-Manager/Developer personality should react.

Initially, because I had witnessed so many of my personal gurus moving in different directions (towards SQL, ASP.NET, Visual Studio, and e-commerce applications), and because my role as IT manager gave me a different perspective on managing Access applications and developers, I considered abandoning Access entirely.

From the developer side, my take was that Access was a has-been product, still useful for end users being introduced to database management beyond list management in Excel, but something that "real" developers were leaving behind in the .NET rush. Access didn't appear to scale well in an always-on, online world, and the marketing material for the newest version seemed aimed at end users only. Although I considered the query-design interface in previous versions of Access the best I'd ever seen, and even though I still think the report design capabilities are world-class, the bottom line was that Access was a file-based DBMS with a bloated footprint. Departmental applications built on a split-database architecture (a single back-end repository for the data and multiple front-ends for the users) for LANs worked reasonably well. But what about the enterprise, the Internet, and mobile workers?

From the IT manager side, I had first-hand experience with version control challenges, replication and synchronization problems, downtime because of database corruption, and the complexity of implementing user-level security. Upgrading applications and file transfers of MDB files always involved much more work than should have been the case, not to mention the fact that black hat hackers were finding ways to infect MDB files with malware.

Then I downloaded and installed Office 2007, bought a book co-authored by one of the current Access MVPs interviewed by Stephen Ibaraki in his leading professionals series on the Canadian IT Manager's Connection (Teresa Hennig), and found myself reconsidering abandonment.

Stay tuned for the next installment where I explain why Access 2007 is worth more than a second look by IT Managers.

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