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Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

  • 1.  Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

    Posted Nov 02, 2018 12:49
    Are any of you(r organizations) using an event management software for conference planning? For clarification - I'm not referring to speakers and content, I mean the backstage stuff (rooms, BEOs, AV, F&B, vendors pieces).

    Our team worked for years with an MS Access database but wanted something cloud-based where multiple users can be working in the system rather than a relay-style hand-off of the data file. So, we switched to something like that but it wasn't really a great fit. Now this product we've used for the most recent meeting announced end-of-life in the next 18 months.

    We're considering moving the MS Access database into Zoho. Has anyone here done that with an Access database?

    The team is also looking at products like eSHOW and Attendee Interactive, but in a lot of ways it feels like overkill and they'd be happy with a cloud-based Access if such a thing existed.

    Note: I'm cross-posting this in the Data, IT Decision Makers and the General Community forums.

    Thanks, all!

    Jessica Daniels
    American Epilepsy Society
    Chicago, IL

  • 2.  RE: Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

    Posted Nov 02, 2018 14:03
    We use Zoho Projects at our organization to keep tabs on the projects we're working on, including our annual Convening (conference). I'm not a huge fan of the software (feels overly bloated to me and the interface leaves a lot to be desired, at least to me), however it's worked well for most of my colleagues.

    We supplement our event planning in Zoho with CiviCRM for event registration and management. Not sure if that's what you're looking for, too, but I'm free to give more information about our experience with the CRM (some good, some bad, overall well).

    Corey Brown
    Web Resource Coordinator
    Silver Spring, MD

  • 3.  RE: Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

    Posted Nov 05, 2018 08:58
    If you're simply looking for "Access in the cloud" you can deploy something like that using MS SQL server in the cloud connected to local Access implementations.

    If you're looking for a new DB framework, Hyperbase, Airtable and Quickbase are all reasonable options, as is MySQL.

    If you want an application that has already been built to support your needs there are quite a few conference management tools that tend to offer a broader set of services, including front-end, back-end, ticketing/check-in, etc. You'd need to decide if you want to move into that kind of environment (eg Cvent)

    Isaac Shalev
    Stamford CT

  • 4.  RE: Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

    Posted Nov 06, 2018 12:59
    Personally I would setup a database in Sharepoint. It comes with the free version of office365 offered to nonprofits. Many times you can find great starter templates for things like this. You can also talk to TechImpact for assistance with design and implementation as a nonprofit themselves they are more than fair and have great rates. Just really depends on how time and expertise your staff has but it is fairly easy to setup. The other perk is Sharepoint runs on MS SQL so it is not difficult to connect to other data sources or export.

    Anthony Caufield
    North Las Vegas, NV

  • 5.  RE: Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

    Posted Nov 07, 2018 08:42

    +1 for Airtable.  

    We used Airtable for our annual user conference and incredibly user-friendly, can connect to a number of other apps via zapier plugins and is reasonably priced.   Another similar option I've been told is Smartsheet.

    Good luck!

    Joshua Meyer
    Wasihngton, DC

  • 6.  RE: Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

    Posted Nov 08, 2018 08:41
    I'm a long-time Access user and I've struggled with the same thing re: multiple users being able to access it (ironic, given the program's name), although I wasn't using it for event planning (more for media lists, mailing lists, grants).

    Our communications team has used AirTable and we liked it but never fully made the switch. We're now using an application called Notion which is a lot like AirTable but (IMHO) better. It's cloud-based but there's also a desktop app which helps to visually organize your various bases/tables. We've found it user-friendly and the customer support (accessible via chat or email) has been great. I'd also suggest contacting them to ask about non-profit pricing.

    Good luck!

    Mandy Rodrigues
    Web Specialist
    Learning Policy Institute
    Palo Alto, CA

  • 7.  RE: Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

    Posted Nov 08, 2018 11:07
    Thanks - I haven't heard of Airtable yet but we'll check out that and Notion, as you noted. I hadn't thought of Sharepoint for this, but it's worth considering, too.

    Truth be told, I'm moving to a different organization so I've started these threads that my colleagues can look through later. I hope to find my way back to this community once I'm settled in the new place. Thanks, everyone!

    Jessica Daniels
    American Epilepsy Society
    Chicago, IL

  • 8.  RE: Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

    Posted Nov 08, 2018 12:31
    In my decade + of working with data I have seen exactly one MS Access database that was normalized, well-designed, carefully implemented, and properly documented. All others have been ungodly messes in their own unique ways, built by well-meaning people for business critical processes. And then when something goes wrong, they are a real pain to fix - the person who made it is always long gone by this point.

    Before proceeding any further, can you verify that the design/structure of the Access DB is a solid foundation?

    Winston Berger
    IT Data Systems Manager
    A Better Way, Inc.
    Berkeley, CA

  • 9.  RE: Outgrown MS Access - seeking alternatives

    Posted Nov 08, 2018 18:12
    +1 for Notion... use it every day and love it!

    And if your colleagues would like to consider a low-cost CRM-style solution, I'd love to talk with them about trying Simply360.org. One of our early partners has been using it to manage their conference, including the vendor part.

    Best of luck in your new journey!


    Jake Grinsted
    Simply360 / The Fresh Air Fund
    New York, NY