Having consistent, reliable, and cross-linked data is one of the biggest challenges facing pharmaceutical RD. Although some data needs to be structured and aggregated, other data or documents need only to be indexed or stored. When do you use a spreadsheet, or when do you need a database? Both application types are useful but they are often suited to different type of tasks. Understanding the key differences between spreadsheets and databases is vital if you want to make the best use of either or both of them.

The emergence of Excel spreadsheet use

Why spreadsheets such as Excel are so frequently used as databases? Spreadsheets are easy to use, flexible and inexpensive, which is why they have become the go-to business tool for storing and analyzing data.

Excel provides a lot of features as displaying charts, showing pivot tables, sorting, filtering. But as sophisticated as spreadsheets have become, they still have some serious drawbacks.

Spreadsheets are not so ideal for long-term data storage or document management. They only offer simple query options, do not enforce data integrity, and offer little to no protection from data corruption. Databases are much more powerful and manageable when handling a large amount of information.

Spreadsheets vs Database: Asking the right questions

Do multiple partners need access to your data? Are several people accessing the data at the same time?

The number one reason for creating a database is if multiple people need to access the file. Access and updates to a spreadsheet is limited to one person at a time. With database management systems, several people can access the same data set. 

Do you need to safeguard against erroneous entries? Does your data need to be protected against inadvertent corruption?

 Data is valuable, and storing it in spreadsheet is a great way to risk making it worthless. Your file can get deleted, or more probably errors will accumulate.

Databases are easy to backup and advanced permissions can be set up to control access to data. You can restore your data if you need to roll back changes. Databases provide several protections for accomplished work and proposes document version tracking to view and compare document changes and to easily restore deleted files.

Do you have separate spreadsheets that contain related information?

 Data duplication is another reason for moving data away from spreadsheets. If the rows of your Excel spreadsheet contain redundant data you’re wasting a lot of space.

The registration process used in a relational database searches for duplicate information, minimizes redundancy and saves space. Data is linked to a single entry, so can find all the information easily.

Do you want to maintain data for ongoing use? Will your data continue to grow and potentially become unmanageable?

 Spreadsheets are great for storing a small amount of data, but when you begin to scale up the size of your database, Excel begins to creak under the strain. You need to maintain pivot tables or other summaries to keep track of everything, and running calculations on the dataset can easily freeze your computer.

A well-designed database will last you for years. Databases have a far greater storage capacity and are better for long-term storage. If your spreadsheet exceeds 20 columns or 100 rows, chances are it would be better for you to use a database.

Can you see all relevant data on one screen? Do you have to keep scrolling to find information?

Information in a spreadsheet is formatted in the actual spreadsheet, and it is cumbersome to retrieve data from the most simplistic queries. Databases stores data in a logical, structured manner specifically designed for fast retrieval.

In databases, data can be retrieved through methods such as asking questions of the data (querying), sorting or filtering, and pulling information into a formatted report. 

Do you want to combine data and generate specific reports? Do you encounter difficulties in viewing specific data sets?

A database is a collection of tables, organized in columns and rows, just like a spreadsheet. But, the big difference is that in a database each table has a unique set of columns and rows, and values can be controlled. Databases link tables of related data together and perform complex queries.

If you have difficulty querying specific datasets for reports, a database could be the answer. With a database, the data and reporting features are separate, allowing you to generate multiple reports with the same data. Instead of maintaining several spreadsheets with customized views, a database would allow you to run sophisticated queries to generate all required information.

Biocorpora : A combination to work with spreadsheets and database

Spreadsheets and databases share some characteristics, but they involve different technologies. They are not mutually exclusive. Just because you upgrade to a database does not mean you have to divorce your spreadsheets.

In an ideal world, databases should be used for its ability to organize and displays rafts of data in a structured manner, to run complex queries with multiple fields, to generate specific reports. And spreadsheets should be used for its advanced mathematical calculations and statistical comparisons to analyze data.

In most cases, a combination of the two is the best. The easiest way is to connect spreadsheet to a database.

Our solution

Biocorpora is a data management system which integrates all the data generated in drug discovery programs (screening data, lead optimization results..) with a permanent link to raw data and related documents and studies. Biocorpora enables you to run complex queries against any kind of dataset. Data can be retrieved through multi-field criteria querying, sorting and filtering.

Biocorpora offers a user-friendly interface to store and display data in a comprehensive way for fast retrieval and easy mining. Formatted report tables (as SAR table) are automatically built and additional report templates can be generated directly by users. In turn, all reports and queries can be exported to Excel spreadsheets for specific analysis, automatic calculations or simulations scenario.

Take the time to consider the parameters of your project before deciding if you should create a relational database or simply use spreadsheets. Remember that even if you cannot really know the future of your project, setting up the right tool from the very beginning will help provide the information you need all along drug discovery process.

Learn more about Biocorpora, contact us.