Excel is for amateurs. To properly screw things up, those same amateurs need a copy of Access

Beware the wrong tool in the wrong hands


Who, Me? If there is one Microsoft product guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine of an IT pro more than Excel shoehorned into the wrong place, it's Access inserted into any place. Welcome to Who, Me?

Our story comes from an anonymous financial services company where a reader Regomised as "Chris" used to work back in the day.

He ran a branch office, which employed 20 people and was responsible for supplying custom servers, built in-house, to connect customers to the outfit's POS network. The IT team initially consisted of our hero and a PFY, and the duo performed all the duties required to keep the lights on, as well as building servers to order.

It was a delightfully simple system. An order would come in, one of the pair would eyeball the stockroom, collect required hardware, and order in any components that were running low. It all went swimmingly… "until the Operations Manager got involved," explained Chris.

The manager looked at the value of some of the parts ("Ariel 32 DSP Modems and the like") and decided that a stock control application was needed to keep track of everything.

The Been-There-Done-That merchants will be unsurprised to learn that "the cost of upgrading our accounts package with a stock module was deemed too expensive, so the Operations Manager, who thought of himself as a bit of a coding wizard, decided he would build one."

What could possibly go wrong with such an approach?

"His choice of database left a lot to be desired," sighed Chris, "and we ended up with MS Access as the back-end database as he had done a course on it and liked it."

To be fair, Microsoft Access does have its uses. It is, however, not always "the right tool for the job" and has frequently been found rammed into the most distressing of places by over-enthusiastic amateurs delighted to find it in the Office suite.

"The PFY and I waited," said Chris, "with various degrees of trepidation for the new stock database to land."

"Test versions were rolled out and tested, and we reported the catalogue of faults to the ops manager. Most of the faults were related to adding and removing stock."

"Which is pretty vital in a stock system," he understated.

Back and forth the bug reports went, until the Operations Manager finally declared his baby fit for production. The big red button was pushed and…

"From the start it was a train crash," stated Chris.

Every month there were discrepancies between what was in that .mdb file and what was actually on the shelves. Every month the Ops Manager fiddled with the code to fix the errors and would end up breaking something else.

Chris and his PFY eventually tired of the shenanigans and simply performed a variant on month-end stocktaking. Each month the pair would pull up a report of what the app thought was in stock, compare it to the shelves and, where there was excess…

Hide the items under the floor.

"Bigger items like the 4u chassis we used," he added, "were taken up to the plant room on the roof and hidden in there."

Of course they were.

If there was a shortfall, the duo simply hauled things out of hiding to make up the numbers.

The Operations Manager was overjoyed – as far as he was concerned, his magical Access app was now working correctly. He was never told of the physical hack implemented to kick things ticking over.

Presumably up until Chris and the PFY both moved on and the bugs made a mysterious reappearance.

"I still wonder if anybody ever found the untold thousands of pounds worth of kit we had hidden under the floor or in the plant room," mused Chris.

Ever been faced with an over enthusiastic manager with some, but not quite enough, IT skill? Or taken unusual steps to keep the business ticking over in the face of executive incompetence? Share your experiences with an email to Who, Me? ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • September 16, 1992, was not a good day to be overly enthusiastic about your job
    If I get in early and work hard, everyone will notice, right?

    Who, Me? "The early bird trashes the business" is a saying that we've just made up, but could easily apply to the Register reader behind a currency calamity in today's episode of Who, Me?

    Our hero, Regomized as "Mike", was working as a "data entry operative" for a tourism company in 1992. The company ran bus tours to the then brand-new EuroDisney, parent company of Disneyland Paris (now the most visited theme park in Europe), which had opened earlier that year.

    Mike was an eager beaver, his youthful naivete having convinced him that if he worked extra hard, came in extra early, and kept the in-tray clear, then his efforts would be both noticed and rewarded with promotion and a bump in pay.

    Continue reading
  • An international incident or just some finger trouble at the console?
    All routers are equal, but some are more equal than others

    Who, Me? Welcome to an edition of Who, Me? where some configuration confusion left an entire nation cast adrift.

    Today's story is set in the early 2000s and comes from a reader Regomized as "Mikael" who was gainfully employed at a European ISP. The company had customers in multiple countries and Mikael's team was responsible for the international backbone.

    "Us senior network engineers were widely regarded as consummate professionals," he told us, before adding, "at least amongst ourselves."

    Continue reading
  • A discounting disaster averted at the expense of one's own employment
    I know what this process needs: Microsoft Access!

    Who, Me? A tale of discounts and process improvement via the magic of Excel, Access and a fair bit of electronic duct tape we imagine. Welcome to Who, Me?

    "James" is the Regomized reader of record today, and continues the theme of running the risk of doing a job just that little bit too well with an ancedote from the end of the last century involving his first job out of university, at a certain telecommunications giant.

    The job involved a process of calculating the discount received by big customers (the ones with multiple branches). "For the life of me I can't remember what the main DB was called," he told us, "but it was the old style green writing on a black screen that took forever to download the necessary data."

    Continue reading
  • In IT, no good deed ever goes unpunished
    When being helpful can mean being shown the door

    Who, Me? Going above and beyond in IT can sometimes lead to also going directly out of the door, as one Register reader found when discovering that sometimes efficiencies can be less than rewarding.

    A reader Regomised as "Will" told of us his days working at a now-defunct company that produced large telephone switches. In those days whenever a major software revision occurred, customers were expected to send in their configurations and Will's group would merge them into the latest and greatest. A new load would then be returned to the customers.

    It was not a fun process, not least because of constant hardware and software failures during the merge process. "When I first started, there was a constant grumble about how unreliable the machine used for the merging was," Will told us.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022