I work for a public health study, and I have been asked to help manage the workflow for an upcoming project. We will be choosing subjects, tracking our contact with them, interviewing them, placing them in one of several interventions, etc. Previously the staff used a large number of Excel spreadsheets, but I was asked to help reduce data duplication and help automate processes.
My initial thought was to use MS Access to develop a custom application. But I worry that the staff will dislike being asked to switch from Excel, where everything is flexible, to Access, where everything is structured.
For example, one way they kept track of subject status was to color rows in Excel. This wasn't an ideal situation - other users didn't know what row colors meant - but it was very quick and easy. Or, as a second example, a certain staff member makes many phone calls to subjects. When a subject calls back, she must quickly find that subject's name. This was easy in Excel - she simply pressed Cntl-F to find the number on her caller ID - but in Access even small things like this must be manually coded.
I considered trying to make Excel function as a database, but decided it would be too unwieldy. Another consideration is that I'm only here temporarily, so I may not be able to support the application in the future.
Do you know of any form components, design techniques, standard practices, or ideas for helping to smooth the transition? How can I have both structured, automated processes, and a usable interface?