Access Database administrator leaves an office. Recommendation on how to move this database to a more appropriate multi-user DB?

An office uses an Access Database (20 users). The creator of the database no longer works for this office. No one knows how the database was designed and how to manage or troubleshoot access. What would you suggest to the customer on how best to migrate this Access Database to a service that can better support a multi-user Database?
victor2008Asked:
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N8iveITCommented:
Technically, there are multiple answers.

However, before asking a technical question, I would advise thinking of long-term development and support.
1. Who will be supporting it (in-house vs contractor)?
2. What do they know and recommend?
3. Does it (or should it) integrate with anything else?
4. Is the database necessary or can it be integrated with (or bolted on with a purchase of 3rd party software) to an existing system (which would incur some up-front labor / costs and ongoing upgrade fees but rid yourself of the development hassle)?

I have always been a proponent of seeing if I can get an existing system to natively support this or purchase a 3rd party snap-in which integrates with something they already are using (i.e. CRM, maintenance package, etc). As an end user / IT Support, it gets me out of the development business and allows someone with this kind of background to step in and partner.

In the end, duct-tape and bailer twine will only go so far and repeating this process with another existing employee will only delay doing something else longer-term.
Dale FyeOwner, Developing Solutions LLCCommented:
Access is fine for a multi-user DB, so long as the users each have a copy of the database "application" (the front-end) on their PC and they are using a shared backend (BE) where all of the data is stored.

AND

the users are operating over a LAN or a very, very high speed WAN (I do not recommend the later but have an acquaintence who works on a dedicated 1Gig (I guess that is probable Gb, not GB) who swears by it.

AND

the users don't try to connect to the back-end via a wi-fi connected laptop.

At this point, if the database is working, meeting their needs, and someone has a copy of the original (.mdb or .accdb) file which will allow modifications, then I'd stick with Access (although I'm an Access consultant, so I am probably biased).  But really, if it works and only needs minor tweeks, then why spend lots and lots of money rewriting it in something else?

Access is going to be around for a long time, too big of an installed base not to be, and MS has recently put in a lot of effort to fix or enhance the latest versions of the Access desktop application.
Jim RiddlesPrepress/OMS SpecialistCommented:
What Dale says is sound advice.  If you want to look at alternatives, there are web-based services that will convert your database to a web-enabled service.  Zoho.com is one such place, although I am certain there are others.  It may be worth checking out.

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N8iveITCommented:
I want to be clear. I am not referring to Access as "duct tape and bailer twine".

I am talking about the internal process which happens in almost every company to end up with many extra-curricular databases which are deemed necessary for the business but IT inherits them from Customer Service, Engineering, Drafting and the list goes on ... simply because the person who developed it has left.

Nor am I doubting the business necessity for the data because all-too-often, IT doesn't listen to business needs and the departments are left on their own to do what is needed.

I'm trying to combine the above two generalities and set a better stage going forward. If Access is the best solution, great! Just make sure the extra-curriculars are required from a business perspective, first.
Dale FyeOwner, Developing Solutions LLCCommented:
As you implied, Access databases are generally created by users because they have business needs which are not met by Excel or the IT department.  The problem with many of these is that they are written by newbies who realize that Excel isn't working for them and because they have Access, they start to learn.  Many times these internal databases are one-offs, used solely by their creator but to perform a function which is critical to an organization.  When the person that wrote the application leaves, he/she leaves little or no documentation regarding how the application works or why they did things the way they did.  Generally there is also little or no documentation within the code itself.  I have found that many of these applications die when the creator departs because of this lack of documentation.

Unfortunately the "make sure the extra-curriculars are required from a business perspective, first" concept just doesn't work.  Generally, an "information worker" sees a need but may or may not be able to document to their boss the return on investment of migrating the data to an Access database and developing a front-end application.  Because of this, they just do it.  Then, when the boss asks for something that used to take 4 hours to generate and the worker is able to produce the item in under an hour, and only then will the boss see the utility of the application.

Department heads should require anyone creating who creates one of these applications to produce the supporting documentation.  Amazingly, what I have found as a software consultant is that few companies which hire me are willing to pay for the time to actually document the application, either through an instruction document or through video "how to" files.  Some of these applications are operated by a single user or by a couple of users who don't use the same parts of the application, so when these people leave, the application is likely to either go unused, or the client has to resort to having me train the next person to use the application.

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N8iveITCommented:
I understand what Dale Fye is saying and, if he were in my area, it sounds like I would be willing to hire him. In my opinion, hiring someone like Dale is much better than relying on employees which tend to have a greater turn-over rate than a good consultant.

Unfortunately, the reality is most companies aren't willing to even pay the money for a Dale, the application languishes and the labor inefficiencies without the Access / extra-curricular database goes back in place and ...
Dale FyeOwner, Developing Solutions LLCCommented:
That's what us professional consultants do, David.

Maintain, Improve, Enhance existing business critical applications.  Actually, our rates are generally very fair, because we know what we are doing it generally takes us a lot less time to achieve a functionality a newbie would spend hours on, with embedded code (not macros) which contains documentation.
John TsioumprisSoftware & Systems EngineerCommented:
Well the situation is crystal clear...if this application is needed then you either hire someone to work in the office or someone that will do the job remotely.
Just make an estimation on what the application does in terms of workhours ...do the math and make the budget.
Armen Stein - Microsoft Access MVP since 2006President, J Street TechnologyCommented:
"I understand what Dale Fye is saying and, if he were in my area, it sounds like I would be willing to hire him."

We work with clients all across the country.  We often never meet them in person.  Everything can be done remotely, using web conferencing and other tools.  We say that it's more important to find the right consultant than the closest one.

It's perplexing that a company will often buy new equipment or a vehicle, but then balk at spending a similar amount of money on a software application that makes them run more efficiently.
N8iveITCommented:
Armen - The answer is three words ... "because Dilbert lives!"
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