Power BI vs. Access: Pros and Cons

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

“Is Power BI better than MS Access?” 

That’s a legit question that popped up on Quora a few years back.

Interestingly, some people are confused about how some tools like Access or Excel measure up to newer services like Power BI.

That’s why in this article, let’s see the difference between Power BI and Access and see their pros and cons against each other.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Let’s get started! 🧐

*This tutorial is for Power BI Online (also called "Power BI Service"). If you have Power BI Desktop, then click here and go to the online version.

Power BI

Getting started with Power BI for free

Power BI is a business intelligence (BI) tool from Microsoft that debuted last 2013. Its components are closely related to excel with great integration between the two and with other apps as well.

In Power BI, it’s assumed you have existing data already which you can retrieve from different sources. You can then process the data into insights through visualizations and share them with others.

What we like about Power BI

In terms of functionality, Power BI is closer to Excel than Microsoft Access. Since Power BI is a business intelligence tool, you can expect lots of tools and features that revolve around it.

For one, Power BI is great at telling a story about your data. With interactive data visualization options, you can make complex data models into easily digestible bits of information.

There are more than a hundred data visualizations in Power BI. You can even build your own visuals according to your specifications.

In addition, Power BI offers dashboards that are like pages you can use to highlight your data. These dashboards are highly customizable so you can monitor your business indicators at a glance.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Here’s how a dashboard in Power BI looks like:

Retail Analysis Sample Dashboard

As you can see from the image above, Power BI has a simple user interface so users without technical knowledge will have an easy time using the platform.

Power BI also has a short learning curve compared to other apps in general and even to other BI services. And if you like to get a headstart, there are lots of blogs out there that teach how to use Power BI. In fact, we even have our own Power BI tutorial designed for beginners.

The best of all, using Power BI doesn’t have to cost anything. Yes, you can literally use Power BI for free as long as you don’t mind not being able to share your reports and dashboards with others.

What we don’t like about Power BI

Power BI is a great BI tool. Its functionality and purpose begins and ends there. It’s a tool for visualization and analytics.

Without sourcing out data from other sources, Power BI is basically useless. You can’t use it to collect, manage, and store data. However, you can manipulate the data after importing it in Power BI and then build reports out of it.

Microsoft Access

Microsoft Access

Microsoft Access is a database application and information management tool designed to store data for reference, reporting, and analysis.

Out of all database management systems (DBMS) out there, Access is highly favored by a lot of people due to its Excel-like graphical interface.

Access works by letting you store data in tables like a mini-spreadsheet field. Users can customize each field and table to allow or prevent others from entering certain types of data. You can also set up relationships between the data and even create reports out of them.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

What we like about Access

In comparison to Power BI, Access is made for storing and handling data. That means you can easily add new records even without the need to add new fields. This makes Access even better than Excel in this regard.

For example, if you want to make a contact list database in Access, there’s a form you can use to enter the specific details:

Contact Details window in Access

On top of that, Access has lots of available templates to kickstart your database:

List of available templates in Access

Access is a powerful program you can use to build big databases. When it comes to storing and accessing data, Microsoft Access is somewhat a “do it all” tool to set up your own database quickly.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

What we don’t like about Access

Microsoft Access’ power comes with a high learning curve. Although you don’t need to know every feature and tool there is, learning how to use Access efficiently will save you a great deal of time.

Access has its own reporting feature where you can create customized reports quickly using the Report Wizard. However, the reports generated by Power BI are greatly ahead compared to Access.

Here’s an example of a report in Access:

A sample of a report from Access

In short, reporting in Access isn’t as intuitive and understandable as in Power BI. Power BI uses visuals not just to make the reports stand out, but to tell a story as well.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Power BI vs Access

By now, you should have a better idea about which tool to use. Power BI or Access?

If not, here are some guiding questions to help you decide:

  • What’s your main goal? Is it to store and manage data? Or is it to generate insights and reports about your data?
  • Is data collection an issue?
  • Do you need data visualization?

Clearly, Microsoft Access was made to store and manage data. If that’s your goal, then Access is the better choice.

But if what you’re after is insights or reports, then you should use Power BI assuming that you already have your data somewhere else.

If you need to collect data, use Access as Power BI can’t do that. Both tools have their own reporting features. However, data visualization is one of Power BI’s key features.

Or… What if you use both?

Store your data on Access and import them to Power BI for better reports and insights. Power BI supports integration with Access so you can visualize your Access data.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto
Power BI Access Integration

Microsoft Access is part of Office 365 Suite which starts at $8.25 per month per user for businesses. You can also buy Access alone for $129.99.

Power BI is free for individual use. The caveat is, you can’t share your reports and dashboards with others.

For advanced functionalities, Power BI has 2 paid plans:

  • Power BI Pro at $9.99 per month per user
  • Power BI Premium at $4,995 per month
Power BI: Create data dashboards and visualizations in minutes

Conclusion

Both tools have their own uses, pros, and cons. Comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. Power BI is a business intelligence tool while Access is a database management system.

If you’re already subscribed to Office 365, you can try out both and see which one fits your needs. You can also use both if you need a place to store your data and a tool to generate reports and insights about your data.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto