A Quora user recently asked, “Does Power BI replace Access?” Since there’s interest in this topic, we’d like to give an objective comparison of Power BI vs Access.

If you’re unfamiliar with Power BI and Access, they can seem quite similar. But in fact these are two tools with quite different purposes.

So, the question “Which is better: Power BI or Access?” is a bit like asking “Which is better: a hammer or a screwdriver?” The answer depends on what you’re trying to do.

In this article we’re going to sum up when you should use Power BI vs Access.

Side note: declaration of (dis)interest

Influential is a Microsoft Gold Partner with a specialist Power BI consultancy. So it’s reasonable to ask whether we’re comparing Power BI and Access in an impartial way.

However, Power BI isn’t the only Microsoft product we support.

Microsoft competencies badge for Power BI use cases

We’ve also been helping clients get the best out of databases like Access for 30 years. To provide one example, we recently helped a recycling company migrate Access to SQL Server.

And beside Microsoft, we also partner with tech leaders like SAP, IBM, Boomi, and more. The reason we attract hundreds of clients is because we put them first — not Microsoft, or any other tech company. So if you’d like help selecting or supporting a BI tool, please get in touch.

What is Power BI?

Power BI is a business intelligence tool that Microsoft released in 2013. Under the hood, Power BI uses a lot of functionality familiar to Excel users.

🕐 When to use Power BI

The difference between Power BI and Excel (and Access) is its data visualisation capability. Power BI is good for turning data into visual stories that business users can grasp easily.

An example Power BI dashboard

✔ Notable features of Power BI

As noted above, Power BI is easy to learn if you’re familiar with Excel. On top of this Excel-like base, Power BI lets you create interactive reports and visualisations. Power BI enables near real-time reporting on all kinds of business concerns, such as:
  • customer profitability
  • IT spend analysis
  • HR performance
  • opportunity analysis
  • procurement analysis
  • retail analysis
  • sales and marketing data
  • supplier quality analysis
These examples are just a fraction of the insights you can gain with Power BI. The actual usage depends on your data and what you want to learn from it. Power BI’s use cases in industry include manufacturing, IT, retail, education, transport, insurance, energy, and more. Power BI comes with over 100 built-in visualisations, and a Power BI development team can help you build many more. Custom dashboards are also a great way of seeing all your relevant insights at a glance. It doesn’t take long for non-technical users to learn the basics of Power BI. For more advanced techniques, your staff will likely benefit from a trainer-led Power BI course. In terms of pricing, Power BI is one of the more affordable BI tools out there. For an in-depth comparison, see our articles on Power BI vs Qlik Sense, Power BI vs SAP BusinessObjects, and Power BI vs Tableau.

✗ What Power BI isn’t for

Power BI is a data visualisation and analytics tool. What it isn’t for is storing and managing data. You have to do that elsewhere and then connect that data to Power BI.

What is Microsoft Access?

Microsoft Access is a database management system (DBMS) first released in 1992. The tool comprises a relational database (Microsoft Jet Database Engine) with a graphical interface and development tools.

🕐 When to use Access

Microsoft Access is primarily designed to store data for reference, reporting, and analysis. Access allows reporting via its Report Wizard, but this is nothing like the data visualisation capability of Power BI.

Templates in Microsoft Access

Example Microsoft Access template options

✔ Notable features of Access

The purpose of Access is storing and handling data. You can quickly add new records without necessarily having to add new fields. If you want to create a database of contacts, for example, there’s a pre-made Access form for entering the details.

A few examples of Access templates for different database types include:

  • contacts
  • students
  • event management
  • task management
  • asset tracking
  • bug tracking
  • inventory
  • project management
  • account ledger
  • sales pipeline

✗ What Access isn’t for

Access isn’t designed for the data storytelling that Power BI excels at. While Access has a reporting feature, this is more like a sheet of numbers than an interactive visual experience.

In essence, Access reports don’t pack the punch that Power BI dashboards, reports, and visualisations do. If you want to share insights across your business in a fast and engaging way, Power BI is best.

Summing up: Power BI or Access?

As we’ve seen, the comparison isn’t really between Power BI vs Access. The proper question is, “Do you want data visualisation and analytics, or data storage and management?”

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to choose between them! It’s possible to use Power BI and Access database together.

Because they’re both Microsoft products, naturally there is a Microsoft connector for Power BI and Access. An experienced Power BI integration team can help you set up this and any other connections you need.

Partner with impartial BI experts

As impartial BI consultants, we want to help you implement the best BI solution for your business. Whether you need ad-hoc consultancy or a fully managed project, we’ll exceed your expectations.

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