Access Web Apps are being retired. Learn about these 9 alternatives

April 2018 is coming closer and some companies are still relying on Access Web Apps. Read on to find out basic and more advanced techniques to migrate.

From the Microsoft support website:

“This feature will be retired from Office 365 and SharePoint Online (…) We will (…) shut down any remaining web apps and web databases by April, 2018”

Even though the messaging is clear, there’s still a lot of pain in my heart concerning this decision. Access Web Apps were the best thing that happened to Access for the enterprise world, making basic and simple relational databases available in a convenient, SharePoint-hosted way and utterly simple way to business users.
They were not advanced, they were not super-sexy, they were not super powerful, but they did have simplicity and user-friendliness in mind.
That now comes to a halt, but there are more alternative scenarios than Microsoft suggests. Read on!

1. The easy way out – on premise

If you are running SharePoint on premise or hybrid, you can always migrate the Access Web Apps to the SharePoint Server environment.
Based on the lifecycle policy, support for SharePoint Server 2016 reaches up to July 2026 currently, potentially giving you extra time to wait for better alternatives to come (feels like InfoPath, doesn’t it?).

2. The PowerApps promise

Microsoft’s first and foremost suggestion to migrate Access Web Apps is to PowerApps. PowerApps is a tool to create business applications fast with no code.
The problem with PowerApps compared to Access Web Apps, is that they don’t easily combine data sources and that they focus on screens. With Access Web Apps, you focus on connected tables, and create screens on top of that.
So honestly, I’m ruling out PowerApps just because it has inferior support for related / linked tables.

3. SharePoint List

Microsoft also suggests exporting Access Web App data to SharePoint lists. If your Access Web App has only a few tables, this is a viable option, but know that SharePoint isn’t made for heavy relational stuff anyway. You are also bound to list View limits (currently 5000 items per View) and you add a lot of complexity for your designers to create and modify forms.
But it can work in some cases.

4. Access Desktop Database

If you started using Access in the first place, you may consider continuing to use your data in an offline “Desktop” database. Microsoft even makes it easy for you by including a detailed walkthrough.
The good thing? Well, it was automated data import! That’s the first solution that automatically does stuff for you. That said, it doesn’t import everything, at all… It only imports table structure, relations and data. So, no forms and no macros.
It will still take you quite some time to create all these artifacts yourself and it will require some deeper Access designer skills that most business users don’t have.

5. Migrate data to SQL Server

Another disadvantage of the previous scenario is that Access Desktop databases aren’t that strong performers as the database engine lacks high performance capabilities.
An alternative is to copy the data to a full-blown SQL Server instance, on premise or on Azure for example. Your data will be really fast, but you will lack many basic features such as:

  • Easy modification of database structure
  • Data input screens (except basic database management tools)

So even though it sounded good, it’s not, read on.

6. Migrate to SQL and create screens

This requires some heavy (and costly) development skills, but if you have the right partner, you might as well give it a shot. Create a custom web application that encloses the data from SQL server and allows users to interact with the data model.
Again, you won’t be able to change the database model easily, and this, kind of, goes past the initial idea of Access Web Apps, that lets you create an application yourself.
In this case, you would actually be creating a totally new application from scratch, with only a database model and some data ready.

7. Maybe RAD will save the day?

Rapid Application Development (RAD) frameworks like Mendix, AgilePoint or OutSystems allow you to create a data model and some screens on top of it with power user/developer friendly tools and a variety of extra features, connectors, bells and whistles.
Although they are a true alternative to Access Web Apps, they typically have a steep learning curve and a high start-up cost.

8. Hey, I use Excel a lot!

Like most people on the planet, we are Excel junkies. We like inputting data and doing simple calculations there. Why not export the Access Web App to Excel? Each table becomes a worksheet in your workbook and you can easily share it, modify it, … Most savvy business users can get around Excel easily.
But there are a few downsides: there is only basic data validation. You can compile complex rules for data validation, but it’s not that simple for repeating rules.
Also, you don’t get nice forms, you just get tabular or “Datasheet” views.
Tables are also not linked, so if you don’t plan on adding any data, and just being able to look through the data, this works just fine.

9. Wait, Excel has more?

The last couple of years, Excel has gained a few very powerful features in the background, one of the most remarkable being PowerPivot. PowerPivot allows you to build relational and multi-dimensional data models right in your trusted Excel workbook.
It allows you to create complex data validation rules, enforce data integrity and more across several worksheets.
On top of that, it also has great built-in reporting features with PowerView and pivot tables that can transform your multi-dimensional data into actionable and insightful reports.
So, when you export all your data to Excel, you start configuring relationships inside that model, add validation rules and voilà, you’ve got yourself a worthy alternative to Access Web Apps.
And you get more:

  • Powerful reports
  • Automatic versioning, when saved to SharePoint
  • Co-authoring, something that wasn’t possible with Access Web Apps
  • A familiar interface

But there are downsides too. Don’t count on users not fiddling with your workbook too much. Excel basically invites you to change stuff you shouldn’t lay your hands on.
But in just a few days, you can get your Access Web App a new and better life with enough relational stuff in there compared to all other possible scenarios.


You didn’t think I was going to give you that one answer that works for all scenarios, right?
There are even more scenarios that we can think of, but these 9 cover quite some ground already. With each scenario you need to think about the following criteria:

  • How much will this cost?
  • Will the data model be changeable by power users?
  • Is it easy to work with – is it dummy proof?
  • Is my data safe and backed up?

I hope this article helps you decide the future for your Access Web Apps. If not, contact us!

Sebastiaan Mindreau