While digital databases such as Microsoft Access are popular among offices, companies had to rely on manual database systems until personal computers became widespread. A manual database system may include a system of binders, file folders and filing cabinets. These systems, while still making up a large part of many businesses that have not made the effort to have completely paperless operations, have many disadvantages that make them less attractive than digital databases.
In a manual database system, information must be found by hand rather than electronically. While a digital database will typically allow users to search the entire database for specific information in seconds, someone looking for information in a manual database may have to spend hours searching for a particular piece of data, searching individually through files and cabinets looking for the information. This becomes especially problematic with large businesses that may have several rooms of data in paper form.
Modern database systems allow users to pull data from multiple areas in a database together quickly in order to compare it. In this way, workers can pull information from disparate sources and analyse it for important trends or other useful information by creating charts and other tools. With a manual database, however, a worker would have to know ahead of time what data he needed and would have to find and compile it by hand, potentially taking a substantially longer time.
Data in manual systems is typically accessible by more than one person at a time, and is vulnerable to being lost or misplaced. If an employee takes a folder of data from the database to her desk, that data would no longer be available for other workers, especially if nobody knew the first worker had the data on her desk. She also may accidentally return the data to a different location, making it extremely difficult for another worker to find the same information later.
Manual databases are vulnerable to damage, destruction and theft in ways that digital databases are not. A company may back up its digital data both on site and at offsite locations, ensuring its security if the office building suffered a fire or similar disaster. A manual database, however, may only exist in one place without any copies. As a result, a manual database would be very vulnerable to a fire or other natural disaster. In addition, while any thief could potentially steal data from a manual database system, a digital system may be protected with computer security measures.