Fear Not the Software

The Pros and Cons of Microsoft Access as a Fraud-busting Tool


Popularity of Microsoft Products 

Microsoft Office products are logical and cost-effective software packages to use for data analysis and fraud discovery. Most professionals use computers that are pre-loaded with the standard, Microsoft Office Professional, which contains Excel and Access. Though many felt even five years ago that Access was too technical to use, it now is much easier because of helpful tutorial “Wizards” (which I’ll illustrate in this column), improved help features, and online training to assist the novice. Also, greater PC computing power allows Access to run much faster even with large data files.

Excel Limitations and How Access Compensates

Most business professionals first learned how to analyze data with Excel. But as PCs became more sophisticated, more powerful products such as Access began to replace the old standby. Here are some limitations of Excel with Access comparisons:

  • Can only process 65,536 rows or records of data which may be too small for most organizational databases. Access breaks this barrier by allowing millions of records to be imported and analyzed.
  • Data files can’t be security “locked” in the spreadsheet. The data files, also known as tables in Access, can be locked so that no changes can be made to the data without the appropriate authority.
  • Has difficulty in performing data management tests such as relating tables. Here’s where Access shines. It relates files such as vendor invoices to vendor master files, inventory ledgers to sales invoices, etc.
  • Doesn’t have functionality specifically tailored to the investigator. Unlike Excel, Access has many built-in features such as summarizing data, finding duplicates, or locating unmatched items between two files that can be run with a few mouse clicks.
  • Doesn’t easily apply routines from one data file to other data files or easily apply multiple data analysis tasks to a file. With Access, you’re able to save queries and apply them to any data file with the same fields/columns. Also, you can link multiple queries together to develop advanced reports.

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